Paul follows the conventional form for the opening of a Hellenistic letter (cf Rom 1, 1–7
), but expands the opening with details carefully chosen to remind the readers of their situation and to suggest some of the
issues the letter will discuss.
Called … by the will of God: Paul's mission and the church's existence are grounded in God's initiative. God's call, grace, and fidelity are central ideas
in this introduction, emphasized by repetition and wordplays in the Greek.
The testimony: this defines the purpose of Paul's mission (see also 15, 15 and the note on 2, 1
). The forms of his testimony include oral preaching and instruction, his letters, and the life he leads as an apostle.
The first problem Paul addresses is that of divisions within the community. Although we are unable to reconstruct the situation
in Corinth completely, Paul clearly traces the divisions back to a false self‐image on the part of the Corinthians, coupled
with a false understanding of the apostles who preached to them (cf 4, 6.9; 9, 1–5
) and of the Christian message itself. In these chapters he attempts to deal with those underlying factors and to bring the
Corinthians back to a more correct perspective.
I belong to: the activities of Paul and Apollos in Corinth are described in Acts 18
. Cephas (i.e., “the Rock,” a name by which Paul designates Peter also in
3, 22; 9, 5; 15, 5
and in Gal 1, 18; 2, 9.11.14
) may well have passed through Corinth; he could have baptized some members of the community either there or elsewhere. The
reference to Christ may be intended ironically here.
The reference to baptism and the contrast with preaching the gospel in v 17a
suggest that some Corinthians were paying special allegiance to the individuals who initiated them into the community.
The basic theme of chs 1–4
is announced. Adherence to individual leaders has something to do with differences in rhetorical ability and also with certain
presuppositions regarding wisdom, eloquence, and effectiveness (power), which Paul judges to be in conflict with the gospel
and the cross.
Not with the wisdom of human eloquence: both of the nouns employed here involve several levels of meaning, on which Paul deliberately plays as his thought unfolds.
Wisdom (sophia) may be philosophical and speculative, but in biblical usage the term primarily denotes practical knowledge such as is demonstrated
in the choice and effective application of means to achieve an end. The same term can designate the arts of building (cf 3, 10
) or of persuasive speaking (cf 2, 4
) or effectiveness in achieving salvation. Eloquence (logos): this translation emphasizes one possible meaning of the term logos (cf the references to rhetorical style and persuasiveness in 2, 1.4
). But the term itself may denote an internal reasoning process, plan, or intention, as well as an external word, speech,
or message. So by his expression ouk en sophia logou in the context of gospel preaching, Paul may intend to exclude both human ways of reasoning or thinking about things and
human rhetorical technique. Human: this adjective does not stand in the Greek text but is supplied from the context. Paul will begin immediately to distinguish
between sophia and logos from their divine counterparts and play them off against each other.
True wisdom and power are to be found paradoxically where one would least expect them, in the place of their apparent negation.
To human eyes the crucified Christ symbolizes impotence and absurdity.
The pattern of God's wisdom and power is exemplified in their own experience, if they interpret it rightly (
), and can also be read in their experience of Paul as he first appeared among them preaching the gospel (
“Boasting (about oneself)” is a Pauline expression for the radical sin, the claim to autonomy on the part of a creature, the
illusion that we live and are saved by our own resources. “Boasting in the Lord” (
), on the other hand, is the acknowledgment that we live only from God and for God.
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