The Risen Christ: Has Jesus of Nazareth Been Distorted?
Jesus’ figure, as it emerges from the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, is the figure of a rabbi, a teacher of the Law in the purest tradition of the people of Israel (Jn 3:2). Although, later on, the first Christian Community gave more importance to the conflicts with the Pharisees than actually occurred, they did not forget that Jesus’ teaching was very close to the teaching of the Pharisees on many points (Mk 2:16; 12:28; 12:32). Both disciples and opponents saw him as a self-taught master of the law (Jn 7:15). How then did we go from there to the figure of Christ as it appears particularly in Paul’s letters: the Lord of history, the new Adam, the one who received the ineffable “Name”?
The apostles believed in the resurrection of Jesus and so did the entire Christian community who were born of this conviction. There was no doubt that he was the Messiah; people also believed that he was God’s Son in a very special sense, different from what the Jews understood by this term. A long time was needed to draw all the inferences from this. This passage was undoubtedly more difficult for those who had known Jesus personally and who had seen him through the eyes of their Jewish culture, not because Jesus was not utterly Jewish, including his way of teaching, but because what they loved in him was preventing them from seeing beyond.
They certainly recognized themselves in James’ letter, the most “Jewish” of the apostolic writings. While acknowledging Jesus as “our Lord,” the author of the letter sees Jesus first as the teacher of a new law which included the best of the Old Testament (2:1 and 8). With the help of the impact of the Nazareth group, the “brothers of Jesus,” the Christian communities of Palestine would grow fond of this image they had of the Galilean rabbi. He had risen, of course, but he had not set the world clock back to zero, and his heritage was first of all an example of doing good, not just teaching the Law.
Within just a few generations, these “Judeo-Christians” would find themselves like strangers to the faith of the Church whose center had moved from Jerusalem to Antioch, then to Rome. It is there that Paul played a decisive role that he himself did not choose. He did not invent Christ the Lord and Redeemer: he was already present in Peter’s first proclamations (Acts 2:32-36; 3:15). Paul, however, had not been influenced (and at the same time limited) by the image and the words of the Galilean rabbi. On the contrary, his conversion had been an encounter with God himself in the person of Jesus, and he saw the Master’s itinerant preaching as the first stage of a wider destiny (2 Cor 5:16).
If Jesus had not risen, he would have remained a teacher; until then, his words were perhaps more important than he himself was. But his body disappeared from the tomb; this first-ever happening, if true, did not fit into the laws of the universe. So the visions of the resurrected one conveyed but one message: Jesus, the Lord! This went far beyond Jeremiah exultant in glory or Elijah taken up to heaven. On the day of Pentecost Peter said that God had raised his holy servant (Act 3:15) and he added: “God has made him Lord.” Before long Jesus will be recognized as “the son of the woman taken up to heaven to seize the book of history” (Rev 12:5; 5:7). Paul and John have authority to speak about him because they are true witnesses; both of them were privileged to get a glimpse of the above (Rev 4:1; 2 Cor 12:2).
From that moment, it was knowing who Jesus was that gave the understanding of his words, because he was God born of God. From that point on, his whole human adventure was a new beginning.
Therefore, when Paul speaks of Christ as the “image of God” (Col 1:15), he is not primarily inviting us to find the goodness of the Father in Jesus’ gestures: instead he is thinking more directly about the Son who, from the beginning, is the manifestation, the projection and the active wisdom of the forever invisible God. Christ is the one who passed through our history and our time so that, through him, all of creation including humankind would be seen as part of the divine mystery (Col 1:20).
In the gospels, Jesus chose to be the proclaimer of the Reign of God. With Paul, however, there is not just kingdom, but our life in the risen Christ (Col 3:1). There we see the gap between Christian faith and the position of the non-Christian Jews who were the most sympathetic toward Jesus and acknowledged him as one of their own. Paul was not the one who built a wall of misunderstanding; the scandal was found in Jesus’ resurrection as well as in his death on the cross.
These are not less scandalous for today’s Christians. Although we have faith, at times we are besieged by doubt: is all of that certain? Many books written by unbelievers, or even by educated Christians, will reinforce our doubts: “The resurrection? There is no other basis than an empty tomb—and do we even know that? Yet, all these reasons do not overcome a deep-seated conviction in the hearts of believers. Then, people interpreted; they believed; they saw…. To say that he had risen was a way of exalting him and of reasserting the hope of the community…” A sense of God tells them that truth is found in the mystery rather than in the interpretations that seek to do away with it (1 Jn 2:27).
We have just said “a sense of God,” because it is not a matter of human feeling: we believe, which means first of all that we receive the testimony of the apostles and of the Church, and we believe the way they did. If we welcome faith, God will not leave us alone with our doubts, there is also an added promise: the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:18). There can be no lasting faith without a spiritual experience (Heb 12:18-24), and this is even truer for those living in a culture impervious to faith, as we are.
1 letter to the Corinthians
Some persons praise the first Christians as if they had been models of all virtue. In fact, there were no more miracles then than now. Here as elsewhere, Paul addresses men and women living in a world as real as our own. Corinth had its own particular character among the Mediterranean cities. Situated on a tongue of land separating two gulfs, it had the best part of its privileged site. The two ports of the east and west had been joined by a kind of paved way on which boats were pulled by means of enormous wagons drawn by bullocks. This spared sailors having to detour to Greece by the south: a very long voyage at the time and very dangerous. Obviously it had to be paid for; this financially benefited the town; it also needed labor which meant many slaves. The city had a sanctuary dedicated to the goddess Aphrodite, the goddess of “love” for the Greeks, around which had developed (with the help of money) a prostitution that had nothing sacred about it other than its name. The prostitutes were counted in the thousands. Quite near Corinth, there was a sportive celebration—rather similar to the Olympic Games of our day—every two years. This drew large crowds of people. We notice in these two letters of Paul very clear allusions to these different aspects of Corinthian history: slavery, prostitution, stadium sports.
In Corinth, there existed a dynamic, though not well ordered Church, composed of Jews and Greeks converted by Paul. Many of them were in danger of returning to the vices of their former lives, once the enthusiasm of their first years as Christians had worn off. Those responsible in the Church apparently were not capable of dealing with many problems: internal divisions and doubts about faith. They therefore called upon Paul, who wrote the present letter, because he could not interrupt his work in Ephesus.
We notice the authority with which Paul, from afar, leads the Church in the name of Christ; also his manner of teaching: before answering any question, he reasserts the foundations of the faith.
The Corinthians, in the midst of a pagan world, were concerned about matters that are again relevant in our times:
– about celibacy and marriage,
– about living together with those who do not share the Christian faith,
– about conducting the assemblies, for both the celebration of the eucharist and the use of “spiritual gifts,”
– about the resurrection of the dead.
•1From Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and from Sosthenes, our brother, 2to God’s Church which is in Corinth; to you whom God has sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with those who everywhere call upon the name of our Lord Christ Jesus, their Lord and ours.
3Receive grace and peace from God our Father, and Christ Jesus our Lord.
4I give thanks constantly to my God for you and for the grace of God given to you in Christ Jesus. 5For you have been fully enriched in him with words as well as with knowledge, 6even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you. 7You do not lack any spiritual gift and only await the glorious coming of Christ Jesus, our Lord. 8He will keep you steadfast to the end, and you will be without reproach on the day of the coming of our Lord Jesus. 9The faithful God will not fail you after calling you to this fellowship with his Son, Christ Jesus, our Lord.
Divisions among the faithful
•10I beg of you, brothers, in the name of Christ Jesus, our Lord, to agree among yourselves and do away with divisions; please be perfectly united, with one mind and one judgment.
11For I heard from people of Cloe’s house about your rivalries. 12What I mean is this: some say, “I am for Paul,” and others: “I am for Apollo,” or “I am for Peter,” or “I am for Christ.” 13Is Christ divided or have I, Paul, been crucified for you? Have you been baptized in the name of Paul?
14I thank God that I did not baptize any of you, except Crispus and Gaius, 15so that no one can say that he was baptized in my name. 16Well, I have also baptized the Stephanas family. Apart from these, I do not recall having baptized anyone else.
The folly of the cross
•17For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to proclaim his Gospel. And not with beautiful words! That would be like getting rid of the cross of Christ. 18The language of the cross remains nonsense for those who are lost. Yet for us who are saved, it is the power of God, 19as Scripture says: I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and make fail the foresight of the foresighted. 20Masters of human wisdom, educated people, philosophers, you have no reply! And the wisdom of this world? God let it fail.
21At first God spoke the language of wisdom, and the world did not know God through wisdom. Then God thought of saving the believers through the foolishness that we preach.
22The Jews ask for miracles and the Greeks for a higher knowledge, 23while we proclaim a crucified Messiah. For the Jews, what a great scandal! And for the Greeks, what nonsense! 24But he is Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God for those called by God among both Jews and Greeks.
25In reality, the “foolishness” of God is wiser than humans, and the “weakness” of God is stronger than humans.
26Brothers and sisters, look and see whom God has called. Few among you can be said to be cultured or wealthy, and few belong to noble families. 27Yet God has chosen what the world considers foolish, to shame the wise; he has chosen what the world considers weak to shame the strong. 28God has chosen common and unimportant people, making use of what is nothing to nullify the things that are, 29so that no mortal may boast before God. 30But, by God’s grace you are in Christ Jesus, who has become our wisdom from God, and who makes us just and holy and free. 31Scripture says: Let the one who boasts boast of the Lord.
•1When I came to reveal to you the mystery of God’s plan I did not count on eloquence or on a show of learning. 2I was determined not to know anything among you but Jesus, the Messiah, and a crucified Messiah. 3I myself came weak, fearful and trembling; 4my words and preaching were not brilliant or clever to win listeners. It was, rather, a demonstration of spirit and power, 5so that your faith might be a matter, not of human wisdom, but of God’s power.
The Spirit teaches us wisdom
•6In fact, we do speak of wisdom to the mature in faith, although it is not a wisdom of this world or of its rulers, who are doomed to perish. 7We teach the mystery and secret plan of divine wisdom, which God destined from the beginning to bring us to glory.
8No ruler of this world ever knew this; otherwise they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9But as Scripture says: Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it dawned on the mind what God has prepared for those who love him. 10God has revealed it to us, through his Spirit, because the Spirit probes everything, even the depth of God.
11Who but his own spirit knows the secrets of a person? Similarly, no one but the Spirit of God knows the secrets of God. 12We have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who comes from God and, through him, we understand what God in his goodness has given us.
13So we speak of this, not in terms inspired by human wisdom, but in a language taught by the Spirit, explaining a spiritual wisdom to spiritual persons. 14The one who remains on the psychological level does not understand the things of the Spirit. They are foolishness for him and he does not understand because they require a spiritual experience. 15On the other hand, the spiritual person judges everything but no one judges him. 16Who has known the mind of God so as to teach him? But we have the mind of Christ.
There are many workers, the building is one
•1I could not, friends, speak to you as spiritual persons but as fleshly people, for you are still infants in Christ. 2I gave you milk and not solid food, for you were not ready for it and up to now you cannot receive it 3for you are still of the flesh. As long as there is jealousy and strife, what can I say but that you are at the level of the flesh and behave like ordinary people.
4While one says: “I follow Paul,” and the other: “I follow Apollos,” what are you but people still at a human level?
5For what is Apollos? What is Paul? They are ministers and through them you believed, as it was given by the Lord to each of them. 6I planted, Apollos watered the plant, but God made it grow. 7So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who makes the plant grow.
8The one who plants and the one who waters work to the same end, and the Lord will pay each according to their work. 9We are fellow-workers with God, but you are God’s field and building.
10I, as a good architect, according to the capacity given to me, I laid the foundation, and another is to build upon it. Each one must be careful how to build upon it. 11No one can lay a foundation other than the one which is already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12Then if someone builds with gold upon this foundation, another with silver and precious stones, or with wood, bamboo or straw, 13the work of each one will be shown for what it is. The day of Judgment will reveal it, because the fire will make everything known. The fire will test the work of everyone. 14If your work withstands the fire, you will be rewarded; 15but if your work becomes ashes, you will pay for it. You will be saved, but it will be as if passing through fire.
•16Do you not know that you are God’s temple, and that God’s Spirit abides within you? 17If anyone destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him. God’s temple is holy, and you are this temple.
Do not divide the Church
•18Do not deceive yourselves. If anyone of you considers himself wise in the ways of the world, let him become a fool, so that he may become wise. 19For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s eyes. To this, Scripture says: God catches the wise in their own wisdom. 20It also says: The Lord knows the reasoning of the wise, that it is useless.
21Because of this, let no one boast about human beings, for everything belongs to you, 22Paul, Apollos, Cephas—life, death, the present and the future. Everything is yours, 23and you, you belong to Christ, and Christ is of God.
1Let everyone then see us as the servants of Christ and stewards of the secret works of God. 2Being stewards, faithfulness shall be demanded of us; 3but I do not mind if you or any human court judges me. I do not even judge myself; 4my conscience indeed does not accuse me of anything, but that is not enough for me to be set right with God: the Lord is the one who judges me.
5Therefore, do not judge before the time, until the coming of the Lord. He will bring to light whatever was hidden in darkness and will disclose the secret intentions of the hearts. Then each one will receive praise from God.
6Brothers and sisters, you forced me to apply these comparisons to Apollos and to myself. Learn by this example not to believe yourselves superior by siding with one against the other. 7How then are you more than the others? What have you that you have not received? And if you received it, why are you proud, as if you did not receive it?
Comforted Christians and harassed apostles
•8So, then, you are already rich and satisfied, and feel like kings without us! I wish you really were kings, so that we might enjoy the kingship with you!
9It seems to me that God has placed us, the apostles, in the last place, as if condemned to death, and as spectacles for the whole world, for the angels as well as for mortals.
10We are fools for Christ, while you show forth the wisdom of Christ. We are weak, you are strong. You are honored, while we are despised. 11Until now we hunger and thirst, we are poorly clothed and badly treated, while moving from place to place. 12We labor, working with our hands. People insult us and we bless them, they persecute us and we endure everything; 13they speak evil against us, and ours are works of peace. We have become like the scum of the earth, like the garbage of humankind until now.
14I do not write this to shame you, but to warn you as very dear children. 15Because even though you may have ten thousand guardians in the Christian life, you have only one father; and it was I who gave you life in Christ through the Gospel. 16Therefore I pray you to follow my example. 17With this purpose I send to you Timothy, my dear and trustworthy son in the service of the Lord. He will remind you of my way of Christian life, as I teach it in all churches everywhere.
18Some of you thought that I could not visit you and became very arrogant. 19But I will visit you soon, the Lord willing, and I will see, not what those arrogant people say, but what they can do. 20Because the kingdom of God is not a matter of words, but of power. 21What do you prefer, for me to come with a stick or with love and gentleness?
Expel the immoral brother!
•1You have become news with a case of immorality, and such a case that is not even found among pagans. Yes, one of you has taken as wife his own stepmother. 2And you feel proud! Should you not be in mourning instead and expel the one who did such a thing. 3For my part, although I am physically absent, my spirit is with you and, as if present, I have already passed sentence on the man who committed such a sin. 4Let us meet together, you and my spirit, and in the name of our Lord Jesus and with his power, 5you shall deliver him to Satan, for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit be saved in the day of Judgment.
6This is not the time to praise yourselves. Do you not know that a little yeast makes the whole mass of dough rise? 7Throw out, then, the old yeast and be new dough. If Christ became our Passover, you should be unleavened bread. 8Let us celebrate, therefore, the Passover, no longer with old yeast, which is sin and perversity; let us have unleavened bread, that is purity and sincerity.
9In my last letter I instructed you not to associate with immoral people. 10I did not mean, of course, those who do not belong to the church and who are immoral, exploiters, embezzlers or worshipers of idols. Otherwise you would have to leave this world. 11What I really meant was to avoid and not to mingle with anyone who, bearing the name of brother or sister, becomes immoral, exploiter, slanderer, drunkard, embezzler. In which case you should not even eat with them.
12Why should I judge outsiders? But you, are you not to judge those who are inside? 13Let God judge those outside, but as for you, drive out the wicked person from among you.
Do not bring another Christian to court
•1When you have a complaint against a brother, how dare you bring it before pagan judges instead of bringing it before God’s people? 2Do you not know that you shall one day judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you incapable of judging such simple problems?
3Do you not know that we will even judge the angels? And could you not decide every day affairs? 4But when you have ordinary cases to be judged, you bring them before those who are of no account in the Church! 5Shame on you! Is there not even one among you wise enough to be the arbiter among believers?
6But no. One of you brings a suit against another one, and files that suit before unbelievers. 7It is already a failure that you have suits against each other. Why do you not rather suffer wrong and receive some damage? 8But no. You wrong and injure others, and those are your brothers and sisters. 9Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God?
Make no mistake about it: those who lead sexually immoral lives, or worship idols, or who are adulterers, perverts, sodomites, 10or thieves, exploiters, drunkards, slanderers or embezzlers will not inherit the kingdom of heaven. 11Some of you were like that, but you have been cleansed and consecrated to God and have been set right with God by the Name of the Lord Jesus and the Spirit of our God.
•12Everything is lawful for me, but not everything is to my profit. Everything is lawful for me, but I will not become a slave of anything. 13Food is for the stomach, as the stomach is for food, and God will destroy them both. Yet the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord is for the body. 14And God who raised the Lord, will also raise us with his power.
15Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? And you would make that part of his body become a part of a prostitute? Never! 16But you well know that when you join yourselves to a prostitute, you become one with her. For Scripture says: The two will become one flesh. 17On the contrary, anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.
18Avoid unlawful sex entirely. Any other sin a person commits is outside the body but those who commit sexual immorality sin against their own body.
19Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, given by God? You belong no longer to yourselves. 20Remember at what price you have been bought and make your body serve the glory of God.
Marriage and abstinence
•1Now I will answer the questions in your letter. It is good for a man not to touch a woman. 2Yet to avoid immorality, every man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. 3Let the husband fulfill his duty of husband and likewise the wife. 4The wife is not the owner of her own body: the husband is. Similarly, the husband is not the owner of his own body: the wife is.
5Do not refuse each other, except by mutual consent and only for a time in order to dedicate yourselves to prayer, and then come together again, lest you fall into Satan’s trap by lack of self-control. 6I approve of this abstention, but I do not order it. 7I would like everyone to be like me, but each has from God a particular gift, some in one way, others differently.
8To the unmarried and the widows I say that it would be good for them to remain as I am, 9but if they cannot control themselves, let them marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
Marriage and divorce
•10I command married couples—not I but the Lord—that the wife should not separate from her husband. 11If she separates from him, let her not marry again, or let her make peace with her husband. Similarly the husband should not divorce his wife.
12To the others I say—from me and not from the Lord—if a brother has a wife who is not a believer but she agrees to live with him, let him not separate from her. 13In the same manner, if a woman has a husband who is not a believer but he agrees to live with her, let her not separate from her husband. 14Because the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband who believes. Otherwise, your children also would be apart from God; but as it is, they are consecrated to God.
15Now, if the unbelieving husband or wife wants to separate, let them do so. In this case, the Christian partner is not bound, for the Lord has called us to peace. 16Besides, are you sure, wife, that you could save your husband, and you, husband, that you could save your wife?
•17Except for this, let each one continue living as he was when God called him, as was his lot set by the Lord. This is what I order in all churches. 18Let the circumcised Jew not remove the marks of the circumcision when he is called by God, and let the non-Jew not be circumcised when he is called. 19For the important thing is not to be circumcised or not, but to keep the commandments of God.
20Let each of you, therefore, remain in the state in which you were called by God. 21If you were a slave when called, do not worry, yet if you can gain your freedom, take the opportunity.
22The slave called to believe in the Lord is a freed person belonging to the Lord just as whoever has been called while free, becomes a slave of Christ. 23You have been bought at a very great price; do not become slaves of a human being.
24So then, brothers and sisters, continue living in the state you were before God at the time of his call.
Marriage and virginity
•25With regard to those who remain virgins, I have no special commandment from the Lord, but I give some advice, hoping that I am worthy of trust by the mercy of the Lord.
26I think this is good in these hard times in which we live. It is good for someone to remain as he is. 27If you are married, do not try to divorce your wife; if you are not married, do not marry. 28He who marries does not sin, nor does the young girl sin who marries. Yet they will face disturbing experiences, and I would like to spare you.
29I say this, brothers and sisters: time is running out, and those who are married must live as if not married; 30those who weep as if not weeping; those who are happy as if they were not happy; those buying something as if they had not bought it, and those enjoying the present life as if they were not enjoying it. 31For the order of this world is vanishing.
32I would like you to be free from anxieties. He who is not married is concerned about the things of the Lord and how to please the Lord. 33While he who is married is taken up with the things of the world and how to please his wife, and he is divided in his interests.
34Likewise, the unmarried woman and the virgin are concerned with the service of the Lord, to be holy in body and spirit. The married woman, instead, worries about the things of the world and how to please her husband.
35I say this for your own good. I do not wish to lay traps for you but to lead you to a beautiful life, entirely united with the Lord.
•36If anyone realizes he will not be behaving correctly with his fiancée because of the ardor of his passion, and that things should take their due course, let him marry; he commits no sin. 37But if another, of firmer heart, thinks that he can control his passion and decides not to marry so that his fiancée may remain a virgin, he does better. 38So then, he who marries does well, and he who does not marry does better.
39The wife is bound as long as her husband lives. If he dies, she is free to be married to whomsoever she wishes, provided that she does so in the Christian way. 40However, she will be happier if, following my advice, she remains as she is, and I believe that I also have the Spirit of God.
Can we share in pagan customs?
•1Regarding meat from the offerings to idols, we know that all of us have knowledge but knowledge puffs up, while love builds. 2If anyone thinks that he has knowledge, he does not yet know as he should know, 3but if someone loves (God), he has been known (by God).
4Can we, then, eat meat from offerings to the idols? We know that an idol is without existence and that there is no God but one. 5People speak indeed of other gods in heaven and on earth and, in this sense, there are many gods and lords. 6Yet for us, there is but one God, the Father, from whom everything comes, and to whom we go. And there is one Lord, Christ Jesus, through whom everything exists and through him we exist.
7Not everyone, however, has that knowledge. For some persons, who until recently took the idols seriously, that food remains linked to the idol and eating of it stains their conscience which is unformed.
8It is not food that brings us closer to God. If we eat, we gain nothing, and if we do not eat, we do not lose anything. 9We are free, of course, but let not your freedom cause others, who are less prepared, to fall. 10What if others with an unformed conscience see you, a person of knowledge, sitting at the table in the temple of idols? Will not their weak conscience, because of your example, move them to eat also? 11Then with your knowledge you would have caused your weak brother or sister to perish, the one for whom Christ died. 12When you disturb the weak conscience of your brother or sister and sin against them, you sin against Christ himself. 13Therefore, if any food will bring my brother to sin, I shall never eat this food lest my brother or sister fall.
Renouncing one’s own rights: the example of Paul
•1As for me, am I not free? I am an apostle and I have seen Jesus, the Lord, and you are my work in the Lord. 2Although I may not be an apostle for others, at least I am one for you. You are, in the Lord, evidence of my apostleship.
3Now this is what I answer to those who criticize me: 4Have we not the right to be fed? 5Have we not the right to bring along with us a sister as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas? 6Am I the only one, with Barnabas, bound to work?
What soldier goes to war at his own expense? 7What farmer does not eat from the vineyard he planted? Who tends a flock and does not drink from its milk? 8Are these rights only accepted human practice? No. The Law says the same. In the Law of Moses it is written: Do not muzzle the ox which threshes grain. 9Does this mean that God is concerned with oxen, 10or rather with us? Of course it applies to us. For our sake it was written that no one plows without expecting a reward for plowing, and no one threshes without hoping for a share of the crop. 11Then, if we have sown spiritual riches among you, would it be too much for us to reap some material reward? 12If others have had a share among you, we could have it all the more.
Yet we made no use of this right and we prefer to endure everything rather than put any obstacle to the Gospel of Christ. 13Do you not know that those working in the sacred service eat from what is offered for the temple? And those serving at the altar receive their part from the altar. 14The Lord ordered, likewise, that those announcing the Gospel live from the Gospel. 15Yet I have not made use of my rights, and now I do not write to claim them: I would rather die! No one will deprive me of this glory of mine.
16Because I cannot boast of announcing the Gospel: I am bound to do it. Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel! 17If I preached voluntarily, I could expect my reward, but I have been trusted this office against my will. 18How can I, then, deserve a reward? In announcing the Gospel, I will do it freely without making use of the rights given to me by the Gospel.
19So, feeling free with everybody, I have become everybody’s slave in order to gain a greater number. 20To save the Jews I became a Jew with the Jews, and because they are under the Law, I myself submitted to the Law, although I am free from it. 21With the pagans, not subject to the Law, I became one of them, although I am not without a law of God, since Christ is my Law. Yet I wanted to gain those strangers to the Law. 22To the weak I made myself weak, to win the weak. So I made myself all things to all people in order to save, by all possible means, some of them. 23This I do for the Gospel, so that I too have a share of it.
Faith demands sacrifice
•24Have you not learned anything from the stadium? Many run, but only one gets the prize. Run, therefore, intending to win it, 25as athletes who impose upon themselves a rigorous discipline. Yet for them the wreath is of laurels which wither, while for us, it does not wither.
26So, then, I run knowing where I go. I box but not aimlessly in the air. 27I punish my body and control it, lest after preaching to others, I myself should be rejected.
•1Let me remind you, brothers and sisters, about our ancestors. All of them were under the cloud and all crossed the sea. 2All underwent the baptism of the land and of the sea to join Moses 3and all of them ate from the same spiritual manna 4and all of them drank from the same spiritual drink. For you know that they drank from a spiritual rock following them, and the rock was Christ. 5However, most of them did not please God, and the desert was strewn with their bodies.
6All of this happened as an example for us, so that we might not become people of evil desires, as they did.
7Do not follow idols, as some of them did, and Scripture says: The people sat down to eat and drink and stood up for orgy. 8Let us not fall into sexual immorality as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand of them fell dead. 9And let us not tempt the Lord as some of them did, and were killed by serpents; 10nor grumble as some of them did and were cut down by the destroying angel.
11These things happened to them as an example, and they were written as a warning for us, as the last times come upon us. 12Therefore, if you think you stand, beware, lest you fall. 13No trial greater than human endurance has overcome you. God is faithful and will not let you be tempted beyond your strength. He will give you, together with the temptation, the strength to escape and to resist.
14Therefore, dear friends, shun the cult of idols.
•15I address you as intelligent persons; judge what I say. 16The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a communion with the blood of Christ? And the bread that we break, is it not a communion with the body of Christ? 17The bread is one, and so we, though many, form one body, sharing the one bread.
18Consider the Israelites. For them, to eat of the victim is to come into communion with its altar.
19What does all that mean? That the meat is really consecrated to the idol, or that the idol is a being. 20However, when the pagans offer a sacrifice, the sacrifice goes to the demons, not to God. I do not want you to come into fellowship with demons. 21You cannot drink at the same time from the cup of the Lord and from the cup of demons. You cannot share in the table of the Lord and in the table of the demons. 22Do we want, perhaps, to provoke the jealousy of the Lord? Could we be stronger than he?
•23Everything is lawful for me, but not everything is to my profit. Everything is lawful for me, but not everything builds up: 24let no one pursue his own interests, but the interests of the other.
25Eat, then, whatever is sold at the market, and do not raise questions of conscience about it. 26Because: the earth and whatever is on it belongs to the Lord. 27If someone who does not share your faith invites you, go and eat of anything served to you without problems of conscience. 28However, if somebody tells you that the meat is from the offerings to idols, then do not eat out of consideration for those warning you and for the sake of their conscience.
29I say: “In consideration of their conscience,” not of yours, for is it convenient that my rights be misinterpreted by them and their conscience? 30Is it good that I bring on me critics for some good thing I am sharing and for which I will give thanks?
31Then, whether you eat, or drink, or whatever you do, do it for the glory of God. 32Give no offense to the Jews, or to the Greeks, or to the Church of God, 33just as I try to please everyone in everything. I do not seek my own interest, but that of many, this is: that they be saved.
Women’s dress and Mediterranean customs
•1Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ. 2I praise you because you remember me in everything, and you keep the traditions that I have given you. 3However I wish to remind you that every man has Christ as his head, while the wife has her husband as her head; and God is the head of Christ. 4If a man prays or prophesies with his head covered, he dishonors his head. 5On the contrary, the woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered, does not respect her head. She might as well cut her hair. 6If a woman does not use a veil, let her cut her hair; and if it is a shame for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved, then let her use a veil.
7Men do not need to cover their head, for they are the image of God and reflect his glory, while a woman reflects the glory of man. 8Man was not formed from woman, but woman from man. 9Nor did God create man for woman, but woman for man. 10Therefore, a woman must respect the angels and have on her head the sign of her dependence.
11Anyway, the Christian attitude does not separate man from woman, and woman from man, 12and if God has created woman from man, man is born from woman and both come from God.
13Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray without a veil? 14Common sense teaches us that it is shameful for a man to wear long hair, 15while long hair is the pride of a woman, and it has been given to her precisely as a veil.
16If some of you want to argue, let it be known that it is not our custom nor the custom in the churches of God.
The Lord’s supper
•17To continue with my advice, I cannot praise you, for your gatherings are not for the better but for the worse.
18First, as I have heard, when you gather together, there are divisions among you and I partly believe it. 19There may have to be different groups among you, so that it becomes clear who among you are genuine.
20Your gatherings are no longer the Supper of the Lord, 21for each one eats at once his own food and while one is hungry, the other is getting drunk. 22Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or perhaps you despise the Church of God and desire to humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say? Shall I praise you? For this I cannot praise you.
23This is the tradition of the Lord that I received and that in my turn I have handed on to you; the Lord Jesus, on the night that he was delivered up, took bread and, 24after giving thanks, broke it, saying, “This is my body which is broken for you; do this in memory of me.” 25In the same manner, taking the cup after the supper, he said, “This cup is the new Covenant in my blood. Whenever you drink it, do it in memory of me.” 26So, then, whenever you eat of this bread and drink from this cup, you are proclaiming the death of the Lord until he comes.
27Therefore, if anyone eats of the bread or drinks from the cup of the Lord unworthily, he sins against the body and blood of the Lord.
28Let each one, then, examine himself before eating of the bread and drinking from the cup. 29Otherwise, he eats and drinks his own condemnation in not recognizing the Body.
30This is the reason why so many among you are sick and weak and several have died. 31But if we examine ourselves, we will not be examined by God and judged in this way. 32The Lord’s strokes are to correct us, so that we may not be condemned with this world.
33So then, brothers, when you gather for a meal, wait for one another 34and, if someone is hungry, let him eat in his own house. In this way you will not gather for your common condemnation. The other instructions I shall give when I go there.
Spiritual gifts and harmony
•1With respect to spiritual gifts, I will remind you of the following. 2When you were still pagans, you were irresistibly drawn to your dumb idols. 3I tell you that nobody inspired by the Spirit of God may say, “A curse on Jesus,” as no one can say, “Jesus is the Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
4There is diversity of gifts, but the Spirit is the same. 5There is diversity of ministries, but the Lord is the same. 6There is diversity of works, but the same God works in all.
7The Spirit reveals his presence in each one with a gift that is also a service. 8One is to speak with wisdom, through the Spirit. Another teaches according to the same Spirit. 9To another is given faith, in which the Spirit acts; to another the gift of healing, and it is the same Spirit. 10Another works miracles, another is a prophet, another recognizes what comes from the good or evil spirit; another speaks in tongues, and still another interprets what has been said in tongues. 11And all of this is the work of the one and only Spirit, who gives to each one as he so desires.
Comparison with the body
•12As the body is one, having many members, and all the members, while being many, form one body, so it is with Christ. 13All of us, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free, have been baptized in one Spirit to form one body and all of us have been given to drink from the one Spirit.
14The body has not just one member, but many. 15If the foot should say, “I do not belong to the body for I am not a hand,” it would be wrong: it is part of the body! 16Even though the ear says, “I do not belong to the body for I am not an eye,” it is part of the body. 17If all the body were eye, how would we hear? And if all the body were ear, how would we smell?
18God has arranged all the members, placing each part of the body as he pleased. 19If all were the same part where would the body be? 20But there are many members and one body. 21The eye cannot tell the hand, “I do not need you,” nor the head tell the feet, “I do not need you.”
22Still more, the parts of our body that we most need are those that seem to be the weakest; 23the parts that we consider lower are treated with much care, 24and we cover them with more modesty because they are less presentable, whereas the others do not need such attention. 25God himself arranged the body in this way, giving more honor to those parts that need it, so that the body may not be divided, but rather each member may care for the others. 26When one suffers, all of them suffer, and when one receives honor, all rejoice together.
27Now, you are the body of Christ and each of you individually is a member of it. 28So God has appointed us in the Church. First apostles, second prophets, third teachers. Then come miracles, then the gift of healing, material help, administration in the Church and the gift of tongues.
29Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Can all perform miracles, 30or cure the sick, or speak in tongues, or explain what was said in tongues? 31Be that as it may, set your hearts on the most precious gifts, and I will show you a much better way.
No gift higher than love
•1If I could speak all the human and angelic tongues, but had no love, I would only be sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 2If I had the gift of prophecy, knowing secret things with all kinds of knowledge, and had faith great enough to remove mountains, but had no love, I would be nothing. 3If I gave everything I had to the poor, and even give up my body to be burned, if I am without love, it would be of no value to me.
4Love is patient, kind, without envy. It is not boastful or arrogant. It is not ill-mannered nor does it seek its own interest. 5Love overcomes anger and forgets offenses. 6It does not take delight in wrong, but rejoices in truth. 7Love excuses everything, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8Love will never end. Prophecies may cease, tongues be silent and knowledge disappear. 9For knowledge grasps something of the truth and prophecy as well. 10And when what is perfect comes, everything imperfect will pass away. 11When I was a child I thought and reasoned like a child, but when I grew up, I gave up childish ways. 12Likewise, at present we see dimly as in a mirror, but then it shall be face to face. Now we know in part, but then I will know as I am known. 13Now we have faith, hope and love, these three, but the greatest of these is love.
Gifts of prophecy and tongues
•1Strive, then, for love and set your hearts on spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. 2The one who speaks in tongues does not speak to people, but to God, for no one understands him; the spirit makes him say things that are not understandable. 3The prophet, instead, addresses all people to give them strength, encouragement and consolation. 4He who speaks in tongues strengthens himself, but the prophet builds the Church.
5Would that all of you spoke in tongues! But better still if you were all prophets. The prophet has an advantage over the one speaking in tongues, unless someone explains what was spoken, so that the community may profit. 6Suppose, brothers and sisters, I go to you and I speak in tongues, of what use will it be to you if I do not bring you some revelation, knowledge, prophecy or teaching?
7When someone plays the flute, or harp, or any musical instrument, if there are no tunes and notes, who will recognize the tune? 8And if the bugle call is not clear, who will get ready for battle? 9The same with you. If your words are not understood, who will know what is said? You will be talking to the moon. 10There are many languages in the world, and each of them has meaning, 11but if I cannot find any meaning in what is said, I become a foreigner to the speaker, and the speaker to me.
12As you set your heart on spiritual gifts, be eager to build the Church and you will receive abundantly. 13Because of this, those who speak in tongues should ask God for the ability to explain what they say.
14When I am praying in tongues, my spirit prays, but my mind remains idle. 15What shall I do, then? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with my mind. I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind. 16If you praise God only with your spirit, how will the ordinary person add the “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since the outsider has not understood what you said? 17Your thanksgiving was indeed beautiful, but it was useless for others.
18I give thanks to God because I speak in tongues more than all of you, 19but when I am in the assembly, I prefer to say five words from my mind, which may teach others, than ten thousand words in tongues.
20Brothers and sisters, do not remain as children in your thinking. Be like infants in doing evil, but mature in your thinking. 21God says in the Law: I will speak to this people through those talking other tongues and through lips of foreigners, but even so they will not listen to me. 22So, speaking in tongues is significant for those who refuse to believe, not for those who believe, while prophecy is a sign for those who believe, not for those who refuse to believe.
23Yet imagine that the whole Church is gathered together and all speak in tongues when unbelievers and uninformed people enter. What will they think? That you are crazy. 24Instead, suppose that each of you speaks as a prophet; as soon as an unbeliever or an uninformed person enters, all of you call him to account and disclose his most secret thinking. 25Then, falling on his face, he would be urged to worship God and declare that God is truly among you.
26What then shall we conclude, brothers? When you gather, each of you can take part with a song, a teaching, or a revelation, by speaking in tongues or interpreting what has been said in tongues. But let all this build up the Church.
27Are you going to speak in tongues? Let two or three, at most, speak, each in turn, and let one interpret what has been said. 28If there is no interpreter, hold your tongue in the assembly and speak to God by yourself.
29As for the prophets, let two or three speak, with the others commenting on what has been said. 30If a revelation comes to one of those sitting by, let the first be silent. 31Even all of you could prophesy, one by one, for the instruction and encouragement of all. 32The spirits speaking through prophets are submitted to prophets, 33 because God is not a God of confusion, but of peace.
34(Let women be silent in the assemblies, as in all the churches of the saints. They are not allowed to speak. Let them be submissive as the Law commands. 35If there is anything they desire to know, let them consult their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in Church.)
36Did the word of God, perhaps, come from you? Or did it come only to you? 37Anyone among you who claims to be a prophet or a spiritual person, should acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. 38If he does not recognize that, God will not recognize him.
39So, my friends, set your hearts on the gift of prophecy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40However, everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.
Resurrection is a fact
•1Let me remind you, brothers and sisters, of the Good News that I preached to you and which you received and on which you stand firm. 2By that Gospel you are saved, provided that you hold to it as I preached it. Otherwise, you will have believed in vain.
3In the first place, I have passed on to you what I myself received: that Christ died for our sins, as Scripture says; 4that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day, according to the Scriptures; 5that he appeared to Cephas and then to the Twelve. 6Afterwards he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters together; most of them are still alive, although some have already gone to rest. 7Then he appeared to James and after that to all the apostles. 8And last of all, he appeared to the most despicable of them, this is to me. 9For I am the last of the apostles, and I do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God. 10Nevertheless, by the grace of God, I am what I am, and his grace towards me has not been without fruit. Far from it, I have toiled more than all of them, although not I, rather the grace of God in me.
11Now, whether it was I or they, this we preach and this you have believed. 12Well, then, if Christ is preached as risen from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. 14And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is empty and our belief comes to nothing. 15And we become false witnesses of God, attesting that he raised Christ, whereas he could not raise him if indeed the dead are not raised. 16If the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised. 17And if Christ has not been raised, your faith gives you nothing, and you are still in sin. 18Also those who fall asleep in Christ are lost. 19If it is only for this life that we hope in Christ, we are the most unfortunate of all people.
Christ gave us the way
•20But no, Christ has been raised from the dead and he comes before all those who have fallen asleep. 21A human being brought death; a human being also brings resurrection of the dead. 22For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23However, each one in his own time: first Christ, then Christ’s people, when he comes.
24Then the end will come, when Christ delivers the kingdom to God the Father, after having destroyed every rule, authority and power. 25For he must reign and put all enemies under his feet. 26The last enemy to be destroyed will be death. 27As Scripture says: God has subjected everything under his feet.
When we say that everything is put under his feet, we exclude, of course, the Father who subjects everything to him. 28When the Father has subjected everything to him, the Son will place himself under the One who subjected everything to him. From then on, God will be all in all.
29Tell me: what are these people doing who are baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead cannot be raised, why do they want to be baptized for the dead?
30As for us, why do we constantly risk our life? For death is my daily companion. 31I say that, brothers and sisters, before you who are my pride in Christ Jesus our Lord. 32Was it for human interest that I fought in Ephesus like a lion tamer? If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we shall die!
33Do not be deceived; bad theories corrupt good morals. Wake up, and do not sin, 34because some of you are outstandingly ignorant about God; I say this to your shame.
The body after the Resurrection
•35Some of you will ask: How will the dead be raised? With what kind of body will they come?
36You fools! What you sow cannot sprout unless it dies. 37And what you sow is not the body of the future plant but a bare grain of wheat or any other seed, 38and God will give the appropriate body, as he gives to each seed its own body. 39Now look: not all flesh is the same; one is the flesh of human beings; another the flesh of animals, and still others the flesh of birds and of fish. 40There are, likewise, heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the earthly bodies do not shine as do the heavenly ones. 41The brightness of the sun differs from the brightness of the moon and the stars, and the stars differ from one another in brightness.
42It is the same with the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in decomposition; it will be raised never more to die. 43It is sown in humiliation, and it will be raised for glory. It is buried in weakness, but the resurrection shall be with power. When buried it is a natural body, but it will be raised as a spiritual body. 44For there shall be a spiritual body as there is at present a living body. 45Scripture says that Adam, the first man, became a living being; but the last Adam has become a life-giving spirit.
46The spirit does not appear first, but the natural life, and afterwards comes the spirit. 47The first man comes from the earth and is earthly, while the second one comes from heaven. 48As it was with the earthly one, so is it with the earthly people. As it is with Christ, so with the heavenly. 49This is why, after bearing the image of the earthly one, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly one.
The day of Resurrection
50This I say, brothers: Flesh and blood cannot share the kingdom of God; nothing of us that is to decay can reach imperishable life. 51So I want to teach you this mystery: although not all of us will die, all of us have to be transformed, 52in an instant, at the sound of the trumpet. You have heard of the last trumpet; then in the twinkling of an eye, the dead will be raised imperishable, while we shall be transformed. 53For it is necessary that our mortal and perishable being put on the life that knows neither death nor decay.
54When our perishable being puts on imperishable life, when our mortal being puts on immortality, the word of Scripture will be fulfilled: Death has been swallowed up by victory. 55Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting?
56Sin is the sting of death to kill, and the Law is what gives force to sin. 57But give thanks to God who gives us the victory through Christ Jesus, our Lord.
58So then, my dear brothers and sisters, be steadfast and do not be moved. Improve constantly in the work of the Lord, knowing that with him your labor is not without fruit.
Commendations and greetings
•1With regard to the collection in favor of the saints, follow the rules that I gave to the churches of Galatia. 2Every Sunday, let each of you put aside what you are able to spare, so that no collection need be made when I come. 3Then, when I arrive, I will send those whom you approve with letters of explanation to carry your gift to Jerusalem. 4And if it seems better for me to go, they will go with me.
5I will visit you after passing through Macedonia, for I want to go only through Macedonia. 6I would like to stay with you for a while, and perhaps I will spend the winter so that you may help me on my way wherever I go. 7I do not want to see you now just in passing, for I really hope to stay with you, if the Lord permits. 8But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, 9because I have a door wide open here, even though there are many opponents.
10When Timothy comes, make him feel at ease with you. Consider that, like me, he is working for the Lord. 11Let no one look down on him. Help him continue his journey so that he may return to me without difficulties. I am expecting him with the brothers.
12With respect to our brother Apollos, I have strongly urged him to visit you with the brothers, but he did not want to go at all; he will visit you at his first opportunity.
13Be alert, stand firm in the faith, be courageous, be strong. 14Let love be in all. 15Now, brothers and sisters, you know that in Achaia, there is none better than Stephanas and his family and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the holy ones. 16I urge you to be subject to such persons and to anyone who works and toils with them.
17I am glad about the coming of Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus who were able to represent you. 18In fact, they appeased my spirit and yours. Appreciate persons like them.
19The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Prisca greet you in the Lord, as does the church that gathers in their house. 20All the brothers and sisters greet you. Greet one another with a holy kiss.
21The greeting is from me, Paul, in my own hand. 22A curse on anyone who does not love the Lord! Maranatha! Come, Lord!
23The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. 24My love to all in Christ Jesus.
• 1.1 From Paul called to be an apostle.… to God’s church which is in Corinth… with those who everywhere call upon the name of our Lord Christ Jesus. With these three expressions Paul defends his authority. He reminds the Corinthians, so easily entrenched in their rivalries, that they are part of a greater reality, the Universal Church of God.
Called to be holy. You have to become holy, but you already are. Holy, in the biblical sense, is the person or thing that belongs to God. The baptized have been consecrated to God and form part of the people who belong to God, the assembly of the holy ones, which is the Church.
God’s call does not allow them to remain as they are. Their conscience readily adapted to the moral norms of their milieu, but now, God’s call demands a renunciation of a certain vision of existence based on ‘the natural.’ They will have to be orientated, as best they can, towards an ideal of life found in the person of Christ.
In Christ. A single Greek preposition used by Paul is to be translated into English as in or through or with, according to the case. “In Christ” has many meanings:
– We are sons and daughters of God, made after the image of the only Son of God, and God loves us in Christ.
– God the Father saves us through Christ.
– The Father calls us to share with Christ his inheritance.
– We have become part of the body of Christ; we live in Christ and have received his Spirit.
– The word “Christian,” used for the first time in Antioch (Acts 11:26) to denote the disciples of Christ, was still not widely used; often in Christ means Christian. So “marry in Christ” signified “to marry in a Christian way.”
See Paul’s acts of thanksgiving in verses 4-9: what certitude of riches present in a community where all is far from perfect!
In his advice to the Corinthians, Paul shows us how to act when reviewing the activities of our parish or our apostolic group. Instead of being discouraged by the problems we face and accusing one another when something fails, the first thing to do is to remember what we already have in common.
These communities, in fact, like our own had to face their problems and their weakness. Each generation of Christians must learn to follow Jesus and “build Church,” or better still “be Church.”
He will keep you steadfast to the end (v. 8). The hope that maintains the “tone” of faith is the return of Christ. The first Christian generation expected to witness his glorious coming: he would judge the world and take his own with him (1 Thes 4:13).
• 10. The first sin of the Church is the division among believers. Several apostles (see 12:28) passed through Corinth. Certain members of the community profited by this to affirm their own identity by declaring allegiance to one leader rather than another: a way of satisfying vanity and the need of self-assertion.
Agree among yourselves and do away with divisions (v. 10): be a united family. This admonition is understood when the Church is a community sharing the same concerns. It is a little different when the church gathers together large numbers of people of different backgrounds who are perhaps opposed to one another in daily life. In this case the Christian community must be united, not by ignoring reality and never talking of inequalities, but by recognizing individual and collective faults in daily life. The Church can never be a reunion of passive or “heavenly” people.
I am for Peter (v. 12). Paul says “for Cephas” like in 3:22; this was the aramaic nickname Jesus gave him. Apollos: see Acts 18:24.
• 17. Christ did not send me to baptize (v. 17). When the Church is fully absorbed in its own problems, Paul reminds them of their mission: Is our first concern to preach the Gospel, or to dispute for the posts of guides and ministers of the community?
Even if these Christians in Corinth are not great “intellectuals,” as good Greeks that they are, they enjoy fine discourses and want to be seen as cultured persons. At this time throughout the Roman Empire people are in search of esoteric doctrines and some people in the Church see in faith the means of acceding to a higher knowledge. So Paul will tell them that all Christian wisdom is contained in the cross.
That would be like getting rid of the cross of Christ (v. 17). The cross should be present in the message we preach and in the way we preach it.
Moreover in evangelization it will always cost us to work with poor resources in a world subject to media. We need to count on the grace of God because we are weak and without titles of prestige. It will cost us to remind our communities of the poverty of Jesus and to be criticized by those who are well off in the world.
See whom God has called (v. 26). The Church of Corinth is formed of ordinary people: this is their strength. Everybody has his place and his mission in the Church. Ordinary people and poor communities, often persecuted and calumniated, have a primary role in the evangelization of the world. God wants them to evangelize the rich and at times, even the hierarchy.
• 2.1 I myself came weak, fearful and trembling. Paul indeed must have felt weak when for the first time he was bringing the Gospel to a brilliant Greek city well used to slavery and immorality. We experience the same feelings towards the evangelization of the modern world; preparation is important but what is it to prepare ourselves? Paul invites us to accept the mystery of the cross and to find there the strength of the Spirit.
It was a demonstration of Spirit and power (v. 4). The power of Spirit, the power of prayer, the power of suffering. The Spirit is poured out after Jesus has suffered and died. With him, we can expect everything. Healings and miracles are worthless (and the devil takes advantage of them) unless they affirm faith in Jesus crucified, acting through the humble, and present in the poor.
• 6. Paul never intended to be considered a wise or eminent speaker by his audience. Yet he speaks of wisdom to the mature in faith (v. 6). The text says in more precise terms: “to the perfect ones.” At that time, several religions were calling “perfect” any believer who had received some secret information not given to all the members of the sect. In the Church also some considered themselves as belonging to a higher class of believers because of gifts of the Spirit they had received, especially if they were able to speak endlessly on matters of faith.
Paul opposes them with his own gifts as prophet and apostle. He is capable of teaching these essential truths which need few words but which can only be presented by those who have experienced the living God. What are these secrets? Firstly, what God is for us and what God wishes to give us (vv. 7 and 12).
Christian faith proposes that which no human doctrine, no religion could have given us. At times, comparing ourselves with those who follow a spiritual way outside Christianity, it would seem that we are saying the same thing with different words. This is partly true regarding our attitudes and our choices in life, but we should not be afraid to confess the riches God has given us in Christ: his Spirit gives us what no one has ever penetrated.
Such knowledge is not intellectual, it is a gift of the Spirit that sows and develops in us the one and only truth. It is very difficult to give an explanation of a truly spiritual experience. We can only speak of wisdom to those who have attained a certain spiritual level. That is why Paul tells the Corinthians that most of them are unable to criticize him.
The one who remains on the psychological level (v. 14). (Paul says precisely: “the psychic man”) does not reach the truth of Christ. However the spiritual person, not necessarily the intellectual person, knows by gift of God the things of God.
The spiritual person judges everything but no one judges him (v. 15). He who sees has no way of convincing the blind person that there are colors. He sees them, however, and knows that if the blind person does not see them, it is not because the thing is doubtful, but because the blind person has neither eyes nor criteria for that. It is the same with the spiritual person and the carnal one.
• 3.1 As a good architect I laid the foundation (v. 10). Paul is founder of churches and others come after him, apostles, prophets or teachers, to preach and encourage the people. Paul is not jealous, but it could be that some of them seek their own prestige, forgetting that the Church belongs only to God. It could also be that the believers compare one apostle with another, and do this readily inasmuch as they are ignorant of what apostolic work really is.
Fire will test the work of everyone (v. 13). This image suggests many things. To Paul as well as to the readers the day of God’s judgment seemed to be imminent and everyone thought that God would purify and cleanse the world by fire. So Paul concludes that whatever we did not do according to the will of God and with the means he wanted will be destroyed by fire. Remember what happened with many apostolic projects that were but a smoke screen (how many tons of documents fit for the fire!). To serve Christ without really pure intentions, will not merit hell of course, but a personal purification will be necessary. This text supports the belief in Purgatory, that is, a process of purification at the time of death or after death for all whose transformation by the Spirit of God was only half-concluded (see commentary on Mt 5:21).
• 16. Do you not know that you are God’s temple (v. 16)? Christ is the new Temple that takes the place of the temple of the Jews (Jn 2:19 and Mk 15:38). The Temple of God is Christ because in him abides all the divine Mystery. The Temple of God is likewise the Church because in her the Holy Spirit is working. The Temple of God is also each home and each believer (see 6:19) because the Spirit lives in each one of them.
• 18. Everything is yours and you belong to Christ (v. 23). We have here a decisive word on Christian freedom.
On the other hand, remember what non-believing philosophers have said: People created God out of their own misery. Whatever was lacking in order for them to feel great and happy, they attributed to a superior being, who had everything. In worshiping him, they felt identified with him and forgot their own misery. This theory is not completely false: in fact people make idols for themselves, be they singers, athletes or politicians; and they feel happy when their idols have and do everything they themselves cannot do or have. They die for causes not their own and they feel proud of people and institutions that exploit them. A Christian is wary of authority becoming idols: he exists and thinks for himself. Even in the Church he is face to face with God with no other intermediary but Christ, and he does not indulge in the cult of personalities.
• 4.8 The Corinthians feel rich in their faith, rich in their spiritual gifts. They have made fair progress in the road of knowledge, and as people expert in the matter, they charitably look down on Paul, the poor Jewish preacher.
The Apostle knows that his own culture and strong personality would have given him a bright future. He sees at the same time the narrow-mindedness of his adversaries but allows them to make fun of him. They think he is a fool, and in a way he is. However, even if taken for a fool he brought them to Christ.
• 5.1 Paul knows that such a sinner cannot be brought to repentance unless he experiences the bitterness of his treachery. So the community must ask that he suffer in health and belongings (Paul says “delivered to Satan for the ruin of the flesh:” see in Job 1:12 and 2:6 the meaning of delivered to Satan). This excommunication is not merely a human gesture. What the Church binds on earth is bound in heaven (Mt 18:18). God is committed to send trials that may be at the same time a warning to the Church and a way of repentance for the sinner.
You should be unleavened bread (v. 7). The believers have been spiritually raised with Christ. As the Jews used unleavened bread to celebrate the Passover, in the same way the Christians have to be, in a figurative sense unleavened bread, that is, they must lead a sinless life before God, and so worthily celebrate their Passover, which is the Resurrection of Christ. Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to yeast that leavens the whole mass. Here Paul uses the same comparison to show how evil spreads everywhere.
Those who do not belong to the Church (Paul says: those of this world) (v. 10). Believers are not afraid of living among sinners, because they themselves are, first, sinners among others (1 Jn 1:8-9) and have as mission to make known the mercy of Christ who ate with sinners. Yet they are not willing to live in a Church community with those who are hardened in sin and refuse to put right a public scandal.
Why should I judge outsiders? (v. 12). Jesus taught us the way to follow, but we cannot demand of unbelievers that they understand and accept our moral standards regarding reconciliation, sex, abortion, as long as their conscience is unable to recognize the criteria of the Gospel. The authorities of the Church are not commissioned to condemn them, but to be witnesses to the light.
• 6.1 “We carry treasures from God in vessels of clay” (2 Cor 4:7). How far is our daily life from what we pretend it is: children of God reborn in the Spirit! What do the members of our own family think about this! What do our near neighbors think of us!
Paul points out the contradiction between the contempt of believers for the false “justice” of the world, and the fact of lawsuits among them. What should they do? Settle their differences in the way indicated by the Gospel (Mt 18:15), in so far as there is a real community. How beautiful it would be to follow the letter of the Gospel (Mt 5:40)!
• 12. Everything is lawful for me, but not everything is to my profit. People without conscience quoted the first part of this sentence to justify their immoral behavior.
Food is for the stomach.… the body is for the Lord (v. 13). Paul contrasts what is purely biological in our body with what makes up our whole person. To eat and drink are requirements of the stomach (modern language: body). In sexual union the body is given (modern language: person). This is why the believer who belongs to Christ cannot give himself to a prostitute.
Paul finds himself with the same problem that had led him to intervene in 1 Thessalonians 4. For the Jews, all the criteria for morality were in the commandments of the Law. It was not usually questioned to what degree these commandments were the expression of an eternal order or depended on the beliefs and the culture of past time. Whatever the Law condemned—interpreted by the religious community—was a sin. Yet the Greeks and the pagans were ignorant of this law. Paul recalls the commandments on sexual matters (5:11 and 6:10; Eph 5:3), as Jesus had done (Mk 7:21), but he is careful not to make it the only criterion of what is good and bad. For him what obliges Christians to control and even strongly curb the practice of sexuality is their life in Christ. They want to respond to a call from God rather than satisfy the demands of nature.
Paul’s way of responding is of particular interest for us today in the universal moral crisis. For centuries and through necessity, sexuality was seen above all as the means of procreation; and from there began the search for the natural law ordering sex, pleasure and procreation. Today, union is no longer, primarily, for procreation even if procreation is desired. The cultural evolution and feminine promotion have made of sexual union, for an ever-increasing number of couples, the occasion of an exceptionally deep human exchange.
At the same time, personal liberation—and the liberation of women who carry all the weight of maternity—has thrown doubt on former moral laws, seen as belonging to a certain time and culture. Almost all countries that are considered “developed” have had to take into account pre-marital sex, homosexuality, abortion on the mother’s decision, the choice of maternity without marriage. Christians get in touch with these questions with religious references their contemporaries lack. Yet if they don’t have other motivation than a natural law valid for all, limiting sexuality to procreation and only within marriage, they will probably get bogged down in endless discussions that are scarcely convincing.
So they must do what Paul did. Without forgetting the laws in the Old Testament, recognized by the apostles and the tradition of the Church up to our day, it must be said that the sexual conduct of a Christian obeys, first of all, a logic of faith in Jesus Christ. It is less a matter of defining what is “good” or “evil” than showing where the practice and the experience of love and sexuality should lead us. To proclaim moral principles of sexuality, without first highlighting the eminent dignity of our humanity created in the likeness of God, and then consecrated to Christ by baptism and conversion, is wanting to gather the fruits without having planted the tree.
• 7.1 In this chapter Paul begins to answer some of the questions put to him by the Corinthians in writing. The first are about marriage and chastity.
Christian life encouraged the esteem for chastity. That esteem could be inspired as well by other non-Christian motives. Many doctrines in the Greek world considered evil and unclean whatever came from the body; and so, for some Christians, perfection meant living like angels, condemning among other things, marriage.
Paul does not teach everything on marriage, but only clarifies the relation between chastity and marriage. Spouses belong to Christ with all their being, consecrated by baptism. Therefore they cannot become slaves to the demands of their bodies. Love rather than sex guides them.
To avoid immorality (v. 2). Paul says precisely: Because of “porneia” let each one take… This “porneia” has many meanings: prostitution, illegitimate unions, and many other things that go along with the word “porno.” Paul is probably referring to sexual attraction, a force that rebels against our moral projects (similar to the revolt of the flesh in Rom 7:21). He does not say a person should marry “in order to” avoid misconduct but “because” sex is a reality strong enough to impose its demands.
Many are shocked by Paul not speaking of the positive aspect of sexuality at the service of love, but we must not forget that twenty centuries are between him and us. In Paul’s time the Greeks considered the sharing of themselves to be an ideal: a spouse for children, a friend for love, and prostitutes for pleasure. Here, on the contrary, Paul presents sexual life as a commitment of the whole human person (6:13) and not the “work of the flesh”: something that is very important.
Christianity was to reveal the dignity of marriage and conjugal love; but only in the twelfth century in Christian countries would there be an awareness of the great beauty of a couple’s love. What is here revolutionary is the reminder of the equality of rights of husband and wife according to the teaching of Jesus (Mk 10:1-12).
Lest you fall into Satan’s trap (v. 5). We should recall these words when speaking about Christian birth control. Paul says that, except in special cases where a special grace is given, it is not good for husband and wife to abstain from intimate relations for a long time.
• 10. I command married couples (v. 10). We read after a while: To the others I say (v. 12), referring again to married persons. It is almost obvious that in verse 10 Paul addresses married couples recognized by the Church; and in verse 12, all those married before they were baptized, but whose partners do not yet belong to the Church.
If she separates… (v. 11). Paul stresses a teaching of Jesus (Mt 5:32 and 19:5). This fundamental law of marriage as a commitment lasting to death is a divine law: not I but the Lord (v. 10). See also Ephesians 5:22.
If the unbelieving… (v. 15). Paul makes an exception for those who at the time of their conversion and baptism were married. In this one case the new Christian, starting a new life, obtains freedom from the marriage ties if his or her partner does not want to accept his (or her) conversion. Even while praising the desire of the believer to convert his spouse, Paul’s advice is that sometimes it would be better to separate, notwithstanding the possibility of a new marriage in the new faith. It is important to remember that Paul was living in a pagan world where separation and divorce were legal and constantly practiced.
Your children also would be apart from God (v. 14). Paul says precisely: “your children would be unclean”, using this word with the meaning that Jesus gave it: children who do not yet share the privileges of God’s people. Would it be right to think that children of Christian parents are alien to God as long as they have not been baptized? Grace has already touched them through the tenderness, the care and the prayers of their parents. We must not use false arguments when we invite Christian parents, (and rightly so) not to delay the baptism of their children.
• 17. Let each one continue living as he was (v. 17). Paul responds to the thirst for improvement of social conditions that are always real. Free people and slaves lived side by side, often in the same houses; and it was not always a distinction between rich and poor. Paul simply wants to put in its right place ambitions that devour the lives of many people, causing them to forget all the rest. Paul puts interior freedom above recognized liberty and he sees possessing Christ as supreme riches.
Yet if you can gain your freedom, take the opportunity (v. 21). There are conditions of work and of social life that prevent us from doing God’s will and being truly free. However one quickly forgets that each social situation has its element of slavery. The quality of life is not to be confused with better-paid employment, especially if judged according to the criteria of the Gospel. In a world we call inhuman, our slavery largely depends on our whims and our ready response to advertising.
We translate: If you can gain your freedom, take the opportunity. It could also be translated as: Even if you could gain your freedom, take advantage of the present situation, that is, instead of being concerned so much for the advantages of becoming free, live your life fully today.
• 25. A new question to which Paul must reply. In Corinth, a city with a bad reputation where thousands of prostitutes lived in the vicinity of the temple of Aphrodite (as was the custom with pagans) the new community was discovering the way of virginity.
Choosing chastity “for the kingdom of God” is not a way of gaining time and freedom for apostolic work: it is taking a direction that opens to the love of God with new possibilities. Paul defends this choice he himself made. If Christ, to whom we are consecrated by baptism, is a living person, present to us, if he is the Spouse (Mk 2:19), the choice is valid, even if for most people it looks as strange as voluntary poverty.
Paul’s response goes further than the question of the Corinthians when he adds: time is running out. He points to much more than a prompt return of Christ, familiar to the first Christians. The coming of Jesus has shortened time in a figurative way: we can no longer settle down in the present world as we did before when we could see no further than the present. We are entirely turned towards what is to come. A Christian lives in the present, but all that matters most for him comes in the “after.” Let us not argue with Paul as if he were reasoning on the consequences of a certain coming of Jesus Christ: he is not theologizing but speaks like someone already possessed by Christ.
Paul then points out that all Christian commitments are likely to cause division for those who wish to live according to the logic of their baptism, seen as a total consecration to Christ. Married life or family life can present many obstacles to spiritual freedom and apostolic desires: see the words of Jesus in Mark 10:29.
• 36. If anyone realizes (v. 36). This can also be interpreted as: “if anyone feels he cannot behave correctly with his young virgin.” In this case Paul would be referring to a spiritual trial that in fact took place in the primitive church. Some Christians shared their house with a girl who could have been their girl friend, both consecrating their virginity to the Lord. Paul, in this case, would invite them not to persevere in this commitment if they did not feel capable of keeping their virginity.
• 8.1 We live in a pluralist society, where many do not share our faith and wonder sometimes if we should take part in their feasts or activities that are not in harmony with our faith. For example, how to deal with relatives or neighbors of another religion. What a married woman may do when her husband does not share her scruples. May a person belong to a group or party when many of its members are opposed to the Church? This is the problem that Paul deals with when answering about meat sacrificed to idols. The discussion begun here continues in paragraph 10:23–11:1.
There were many sacrifices of animals in the pagan temples. After the sacrifices, in a room of the temple a banquet was celebrated at which the meat of the victims was served. Christians were often invited to these banquets by their pagan friends. On other occasions, meat from these sacrifices was offered to them in the homes of their pagan friends. Even in the public market, most of the meat was from animals offered to idols.
Paul does not want the Christians to become a group of fanatics keeping themselves apart from society. Although it is true that offering sacrifice to idols is a sin, not for that reason is the meat unclean. False gods do not exist and have no power. Besides Jesus said that it is not what enters into a person that makes him unclean, but what comes out of his heart (Mk 7:15).
Knowledge puffs up, while love builds (v. 1). Christians with an informed conscience could perfectly well eat of that meat, knowing it was not sinful. However it was their duty to respect the opinion of others and so avoid scandalizing those unable to understand their reasons.
In verse 3 the words in brackets were most probably added later. Here, Paul contrasts the knowledge of God we can acquire and express by means of words and ideas, and another more authentic riches that is God’s presence to the one he knows and treats in a special way.
In verses 10-12, Paul speaks of those of weak or unformed conscience, meaning the believers who have not yet had sufficient religious instruction or who have been badly instructed. They think that something is sinful when in reality it is not; or they are weak and follow others when their conscience reproaches them for doing so.
What if others with an unformed conscience see you, a person of knowledge, sitting at the table in the temple of the idols (v. 10). This is more serious. Some in the community already follow a path that will be denounced by John in Revelation (2:23), those who later would be known as the “Nicolaites.” They wanted to be very open and not separate from the non-Christians around them, so they preferred not to manifest their convictions. Finally one could not tell what truth they were witnesses to. In 10:14-22 Paul will clearly state that a Christian may not participate in such a banquet in the temple. In this passage he does not say it openly, but he shows that such an attitude should be shocking for many people.
• 9.1 Have we not the right to be fed? (v. 4). In asking the Corinthians to forget their right to eat sacrificed meat, Paul gives himself as an example and tells them how he also renounces his right to be supported by the churches. The churches gave food and drink to the apostles who visited them and took care of the Christian women attending them (v. 5), as in the case of Jesus (Lk 8:2). However, to give proof of detachment, Paul did not accept this favor and lived by the work of his hands (Acts 18:3).
I am bound to do it. Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel (v. 16). As happened with Jeremiah (Jer 1) Christ the Lord began ruling the life of Paul from the day he called him.
I made myself all things to all people (v. 22). Paul gives a guideline for apostles of all times. Apostolic movements require their members to know their environment very well and the problems of their companions. Committed Christians must share the life-style and human aspirations of their companions in everything that is not sinful. Becoming like Paul, “a Greek among the Greeks,” not in appearance but in reality, they will be able to express simply and in all truth their faith in Christ; in that way they will offer to those whose daily life they share, the possibility of one day finding their place in the Church. From then on it will be the entire life of the new convert with all that is linked to his culture and his milieu that will be renewed by faith.
• 24. Paul is now ready to tell the Corinthians that they may not share the cult of idols. To justify his position (for the Corinthians it was very strict), Paul presents two arguments:
– no racing contest is won without self-sacrifice;
– the Bible has many examples of how God punished those who practiced a cult of idols.
As athletes who impose upon themselves a rigorous discipline (v. 25). Like them, we must renounce many things that are not evil. We need discipline to be really free, whether in the use of alcohol or tobacco, or not idly waste time in front of the television or reading magazines. While the world lures us to be spectators and consumers, we must be agents of salvation, the salt of the earth. The second paragraph recalls the example of Israel (see Ex 32 and Num 21).
• 10.1 The rock was Christ (v. 4). The Jewish legends said that the rock mentioned in Exodus 17:5 followed the Israelites in their journey. Paul does not affirm that legend as true. He only recalls it as an image of Christ, present in his Church.
• 15. And the bread that we break, is it not a communion with the body of Christ? (v. 16). Paul will return to speak of the Eucharist in 11:18. This communion through the body and blood of the Risen Christ, besides being a personal encounter with Christ, makes of all of us one body. We form one body. This does not only mean that we feel united, but that the Risen Christ unites us to himself and, so doing, gives the community new strength.
The idol is nothing. The idol in itself was just a material thing, like an image. Yet the Jews thought (and Paul also mentions it) that the cult of idols was addressed to the devils. In fact, when people are now being dragged along by crazy trends or rhythms, or attitudes, and sacrifice to their idols what their families need for survival, and make themselves dependent on “mortals,” we know that in reality they are serving the devil.
• 23. Everything is lawful for me, but not everything is to my profit (v. 23). Paul draws the same practical deductions as in 8:1-13. Except in the cases mentioned, where the believer refuses to share directly in something evil, the supreme rule of conduct will be to seek what is good and respect the conscience of others.
• 11.1 Is it important for a woman to wear a veil while praying in Church? Mediterranean traditions required it and perhaps the new custom originated in “mystery religions.” In an earlier paragraph (9:20) Paul said he was “all for all.” Here we notice that he didn’t always have a fair regard for customs contrary to Jewish tradition.
Paul speaks here according to his Jewish culture, chiefly male-centered, and repeats the same arguments of Jewish teachers (vv. 5-10). Then suddenly he realizes that he is denying the equality proclaimed by Jesus and tries to turn back (vv. 11-12). By the way Paul ends the discussion, we see that he himself was aware of the weakness of his arguments.
Let us not lessen these flashes of light thrown at us by Paul: the angels participate in Christian worship (Mt 18:10 and Rev 5:8; 8:3), even our exterior bearing is in a way an active sharing in the liturgy of the Eucharist.
This paragraph helps us to understand that many things in the Church and in Christian life are no more than customs or human traditions, although they maintain among us respectable values. Those in authority, like Paul, cannot impose them on the community.
• 17. Without making any transition Paul passes to the most important act of the Christian assembly, the Eucharist. These lines are the oldest testimony relating to the Supper of the Lord and were written in the year 55 A.D., some years ahead of the Gospels.
The community gathered in a friendly house. After the supper, solemnized by the singing of the psalms, the leader of the community said a prayer of thanksgiving, remembering the last supper of Jesus, and repeated his words to consecrate the body and blood of Christ. Then everyone received communion from the same bread and the same cup.
In 10:16 Paul recalled two aspects of the Lord’s Supper:
– it is the communion of the body and blood of the Lord;
– it affirms a union of love among all: we form one body.
Here Paul denounces the Corinthians for their sin with regard to these two points.
Each one eats at once his own food (v. 21) to avoid sharing with those who are poorer, or to evade the company of certain persons. We can imagine that the groups spontaneously formed and occupied various rooms in the same house: actually each one joined the group from his own milieu. Perhaps the buffet is more promising where the rich are, while the poor are in the yard.
Another is getting drunk and therefore not disposed to receive the body of Christ.
In not recognizing the Body (v. 29). This term points out at the same time:
– the one who does not distinguish consecrated bread from ordinary bread and does not receive it with due respect, as the body of Christ;
– the one who ignores his brothers and sisters in the celebration of the Eucharist. He does not recognize the body of Christ as formed by all the assembled Christians.
The Eucharist is the center and heart of the life of the Church, which is, before all else, a communion with God and with others. The Church is not only an instrument for spreading the Good News, but the place here on earth where people can already experience the union between themselves and Christ.
You are proclaiming the death of the Lord until he comes (v. 26). All the Eucharists celebrated around the world each day and every minute of the day, remind us that the death of Christ fills up the time until his coming.
History cannot cease, nor civilization be stagnant as happened in past centuries. Not only does technical progress force us to advance, but also the requirements of justice springing from the death of the innocent (and here God is the innocent) destroy the established order. Jesus’ death does not allow the world to rest or have peace. The Church reminds us of the death of Christ, not to preserve the past, but to draw from this unique event new energy for both reconciling and condemning.
This is the reason why so many among you are sick (v. 30). The Lord uses many signs to admonish us. Sometimes through personal illness; more often, through the weakness and spiritual anemia of the Church. Fulfilling the requirements for a worthy celebration of the Eucharist would be sufficient to renew the Church.
• 12.1 Let us notice the order followed by Paul: the Spirit comes after the Word, the Son. The spiritual gifts distributed in our days are the fruit of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
In the Church of Corinth the Holy Spirit reveals his presence by giving many believers spiritual gifts. All marvel when some of them, touched by the Spirit, begin praising God with words understood by no one. They feel still more the presence of God when a prophet reveals to some of them what is on their conscience or gives to someone a special message from God.
Paul intervenes in two ways. First to establish order. Pagans went wild in the frenzied celebration of their feasts, while the Spirit makes everyone more responsible. When a frenzied individual cried out something senseless or scandalous, it was proof that he was not inspired.
Paul reminds us that the gifts of the Spirit (sometimes called charisms) have several aspects. They are gifts, especially evident in miracles. But they are also ministries (v. 5), that is services, as is evident in the leading of a community. These should also be called works, because in them a person must not praise himself, but all must be seen as the work of God.
If Paul said that these services come from Christ, people might think that most important in the Church is the authority of those who govern in the name of Christ and at times are considered his “vicars.” Yet these gifts and ministries are also related to the Holy Spirit. The Spirit blows where he pleases and multiplies, among believers of simple heart, gifts and initiatives that renew the church. The mission of the ministers (bishops, priests or lay ministers) is not only to govern and command the Church, but also to recognize the true work of the Spirit in the community.
Who gives to each one as he so desires (v. 11). The Spirit gives the Church what it needs at the right place and the right time. These paragraphs reveal the concerns of the Church of that time, very different from ours today. Now the Spirit reminds the Church of its mission in the world. Many believers possess gifts that, without being apparent in miracles, inspire their exemplary and fruitful lives. Whereas, in those early times, the newly converted Christians discovered that God was among them. Through gifts of prophecy, wisdom, teaching, the Church unfolded day by day the innumerable consequences of the death and resurrection of Christ.
Words of wisdom that indicate an attitude to adopt. Words of knowledge that reveal something that is hidden, or what God is about to do. Faith (not in the meaning we usually give it, but as in Mk 11:22) that means certitude that God wishes to do something and urges us to ask for a miracle. Thus, it was that the Church discovered God’s presence within herself as well as the power issuing from the death and resurrection of Christ.
The same Spirit… the same Lord… the same God. God is the fountain of the various gifts granted to the Church and God is also the model of how diversity may be coupled with unity.
• 12. A detailed comparison with the body helps us to understand what the Church is, showing at the same time how we must complement and respect each other.
We cannot have a true community unless each of us shares in its life, placing our talents at the service of others. Even the least gifted may have riches that will be revealed at the right time. Even the misfortunes of someone may become the riches of the group that welcomes him/her. As soon as one is really committed to a Christian life, the spirit awakens in him new and sometimes unsuspected capabilities. If we pay attention to the riches of our brothers and sisters and awaken in them the consciousness of their dignity and responsibility, we shall see a new resurgence in the Church, fruit of the Spirit. It would take too long to recall the harm done to the Church in some places because of the passivity of Christians in a clericalized church.
At the end of the paragraph Paul lists the various gifts according to their importance. First, not what appears more miraculous, but what is most constructive for the Church. That is why apostles occupy the first place. These are not only the twelve chosen by Jesus, but also those who, like them and accepted by them, are founding new communities and governing those already existing. Then, in second place, come the prophets, who not only announce words of God, but also strengthen the community with the gifts of faith and wisdom that inspire their preaching.
In the last place are those who receive the gift of speaking in tongues, although in Corinth it was as if they had already reached Heaven.
• 13.1 I will show you a much better way (12:31). As the Corinthians marveled at the spectacular and wonderful things worked by the Spirit, Paul tells them that the only important thing is the ability to love.
Love or charity? At the beginning both words meant the same thing. Later on, the word “charity” came to mean the help given in the form of alms, although the giving of alms alone is not real love. On the other hand, for many people, true love is only that of a man and a woman. So it is irrelevant whether we say charity or love, but we have rather to clarify what love really is. Paul does just that in the present text.
If I could speak… if I had… To love is more important than performing miracles, more important than doing great things for others and dying for a cause, all of which can be done without love.
When I was a child. Already Paul outlines what he will explain in chapter 15 when he speaks of our life after the resurrection. Just as the caterpillar must completely change itself to become a butterfly (not merely by sprouting wings), and just as a child’s game has no sense for an adult, so will it be for our present life: work, study, love, our understanding of God and the world, the life of the Church—all will be no more than a forgotten past. Paul experienced a love of God that invaded him and divinized his least desires, and he knew it was already God’s possession of him, which would be eternal: love would never end.
Faith, hope, and love (v. 13). Paul quite often joins these three “virtues,” that is the three movements in the Christian soul. In no other place does he state this more clearly than here. There is no authentic love without faith and hope.
The greatest of these is love. Sometimes this sentence is used to misrepresent what is essential to Christian life. For many say, “I do good to my neighbor, what else does God ask of me?” It would not be difficult to prove that such love is very limited, selfish and impure. It is a “love” in which divine love lives in very cramped conditions and so is unable to transform our life. We would need, first of all, great hope in a Christian sense that is a passion for eternal things and then the yielding of ourselves to the Spirit who would complete his work of love in us. Love reaches its perfection when we are in God: I will know him as he knows me. As long as we do not see God, love is immature; this is the time when love must grow through faith and the knowledge of God’s word; also through hope and perseverance as we follow Jesus poor, free and in the midst of trials.
• 14.1 It seems that the assemblies in Corinth were very disorderly. People did not wait for their turn to speak, but spoke at the same time, especially the women. Paul invites them to be silent. Those with spectacular gifts felt more important and did not respect the most elementary order. Some who pretended to be inspired spoke and acted very strangely and at times shamefully.
Paul establishes an order of priority, giving preference to those gifts that most help strengthen the Church. He compares the Church to a building. We build it when we help others to grow, to be better and more united. What makes a person better is charity, and not the performance of extraordinary gifts and charisms, as miracles, languages and such. This is why extraordinary performances do not mean holiness; God can use anybody, even sinners, to perform for others’ benefit. The truth of a religion does not rely on the fact that its preachers can heal the sick or do similar things, thereby filling stadiums and impressing large audiences. It depends on its fidelity to the teaching of the Apostles, as found in the Church.
The spirits speaking through prophets are submitted to prophets (v. 32). What comes from the Spirit always blends with what comes from a person. Those who think they are inspired must be careful not to lessen what comes from the Spirit with their own beliefs and desires. No inspiration allows us to disregard our community or rightful authority.
The verses 34-35 have from the beginning scandalized people because of their harshness towards women and in certain texts they have been removed. If they are Paul’s they must be understood in the light of 11:1-16. The apostle was infallible regarding faith but no decision touching the organization of the Church whether it comes from Paul or someone else is beyond criticism or irrevocable, even in the case when it could be at a given moment “an order of the Lord.”
• 15.1 Have we here the response to a last question of the Corinthians? Many Greeks thought that at death the immortal soul leaves the body and remains alone. Was it admitted to the paradise of souls? Did it come to the great reservoir of souls already gone or who were to return, forgetting all the past lived on earth? Others held (as do a good number of Christians today), that all ends with death: see 1 Thessalonians 5:13. Paul will therefore remind the Corinthians that faith in the resurrection is at the heart of the Christian message.
I remind you of the gospel. Here certainly we may speak of Good News, for death as something unknown is and always has been the great burden of human life (Sir 40:1).
How can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? (v. 12). Paul begins with the resurrection of Jesus as a fact: and from that he then draws consequences: our own resurrection.
We hear it said at times, even among believers that the resurrection of Jesus is not an historical fact. This is true in the sense that resurrection escapes the historical dimension. We know and we believe it because there are witnesses, and in no other way does history proceed. Nevertheless there is a vast difference: history deals with testimonies on which we have some ideas: a war, a meeting between two people, an invention. On the contrary, for the resurrection of Jesus, the witnesses can only speak of apparitions of Jesus or meetings with him. This experience led them to believe something much greater: Jesus had begun a life about which we have no idea, even sharing the power of God! We, then, in this very special case, shall believe not only what they saw but also what they believe, and that is in no way comparable with historical processes. But all the same, Jesus’ resurrection and coming in glory is a fact (see commentary on Mk 16).
I have passed on to you (v. 3). Paul will not recall a tale, or a “myth,” these stories full of wisdom that abounded with the Greeks. They bared an order in the world, a meaning of life, but were only stories. Today certain people speak of the resurrection in the same way. They say: “It matters little what took place, the gospels are not directly interested in what happened to Jesus, for them it was important that strange events would give courage to the disciples and the hope of another life.” Paul says precisely the contrary: the resurrection of Jesus is a fact.
• 20. Whoever shares the faith of the apostles has accepted resurrection as a fact. Paul immediately goes to the consequences for us: shall we also enter another life?
For as in Adam all die (v. 22). See the commentary in Romans 5:12 concerning Adam and Christ. The myths of various religions in the past projected onto some mysterious personage our own condition, but were unable to do more than give a meaning to life. They could not change it. Faith instead tells us that the Son-of-God-made-human has lived among us and lived for all of us. Let us leave aside our individualistic vision in which each one sees no more than his own destiny: for God the entire venture of creation and salvation is that of Adam, one and multiple at the same time. Jesus who is himself Man has lived it fully for us all.
Then the end will come, when Christ delivers the kingdom to God the Father (v. 24). Here again, let us leave aside simplistic images. Let us remember that there is only one God. Here, the Son is the Word of God made flesh who has taken on his shoulders the whole history of humankind. He who is eternally returning to the Father from whom he is born brings to the eternity of God all creation. There will not be a re-beginning of history. God will be all in all, we will receive God from God and we will have all, finally becoming ourselves. That, surely, surpasses all we could have imagined, but Paul adds: The last enemy to be destroyed will be death (v. 26). John will say the same in Revelation (21:4).
Why do they want to be baptized for the dead? (v. 29). Perhaps some of them were concerned for the fate of their parents who died without knowing the Gospel, and were baptized in their name. Paul does not give his opinion about this practice. He only takes the opportunity to argue in favor of the resurrection.
• 35. How will the dead be raised? With what kind of body will they come? (v. 35). Here indeed is the question we often ask: we would like to imagine, to know what we shall then be. But how can a human being imagine, know, this new world which is even now being prepared: is it not like a child still enclosed in the universe of its mother’s womb, and trying to imagine the world into which it will be projected?
All that Paul can do is to throw light on the mystery by using comparisons.
What you sow is not the body of the future plant (v. 37). Jesus spoke of the grain that is sown (Jn 12:24). With this example he destroyed those primitive ideas that some people still have nowadays: that angels will come to gather the dust of the dead, that corpses will come out of their tombs… In reality, our present body is the grain and the risen body, the spike or ear, will not be the recomposition of the actual body that is put in the earth.
Not all flesh is the same (v. 39). Paul explains that one and the same word can express many different things that have some likeness. For example, the word “light” is used to designate the very different ways in which the sun, the moon and stars, each shines with its own special color. During Paul’s time the word “body” was used for many things, even to designate the sun and the stars, called “heavenly bodies.” So, when it is said that the dead are raised with their own body, this does not mean with the same shape (with arms and legs and hair…) or the same life, although it will be the same person.
Just as the ear of wheat comes from a grain of wheat, it will be the same person as before, marked by all that has made him grow (the risen Christ rightly wished to show the marks of his passion on his glorious body). Since no one becomes himself alone, but in union and in relation with others, we shall know in all the fullness of their transfigured persons, those who have helped us most to develop our riches.
For there shall be a spiritual body as there is at present a living body (v. 44). Resurrection comes from what is within, it is like a transfiguration. Each one will have the body he/she deserves; a body that best expresses what he/she has become and what he/she is in God. Could we hope for anything more beautiful than that hope which is beautiful even in its logic? But is it certain? Paul is affirmative with all the boldness of faith. No reasoning can prove faith: only the experience of the working of the Spirit which even now is transfiguring us and will give us day by day, more than an intuition, a certitude of where we are going.
Earthly… heavenly… (vv. 45-49). We all have a double heritage: by nature we are in solidarity with the human race in the person of Adam—man, animal and earthly—but we also belong to this human community which mysteriously forms itself around Christ who is Spirit, source of life and who comes from heaven. Baptism has not made us pass from one to another. Moreover, faithful as we may be, our Adam will continue to grow and increase in weight, with his weakness and temptations, but at the same time our inner being will be strengthened, this embryo of a celestial person, waiting for its true birth.
Flesh and blood cannot share the kingdom of God; nothing of us that is to decay can reach imperishable life (v. 50). It is the opposition between what can only rot and decompose, and the definitive, unaltered which is proper to the world where God is (Rom 8:21). Life has its logic: persons who have chosen to enjoy the present life hardly believe in that other world.
Not all of us will die (v. 51). Paul thinks that Christ is to return soon. On this supposition, he says that those who are alive when Christ returns will not have to “travel” with him to Heaven (that would be a materialist image), but will be transformed. Resurrection is not simply to live again as happened to Lazarus.
• 16.1 With respect to the collection, see Romans 15:25 and 2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9.
Sunday, the first day of the Jewish week. See Acts 20:7. During the time of Paul, Christians began to observe Sunday, the day of Christ’s resurrection, rather than the Saturday (or Sabbath) of Moses and the Jews.
Through the list of greetings to be passed on, we can form some idea of these first believers from whom we have received the faith. We can see that in spite of their weakness the Christians of Corinth form a real Church, since it is a community where many are active and together trying to solve the problems of their life “in Jesus Christ.”