FTC Preaching Guide: 1 Corinthians

by Tyler Sykora November 9, 2021

1. Introduction
2. Preaching Outlines
3. Problem Passages
4. Key Themes and Motifs
5. Commentaries and Resources
6. Preaching Christ from the Book
7. Why You Should Preach This Book

1. Introduction

While on his third missionary journey, the apostle Paul wrote the letter of 1 Corinthians to a fractioned church in the city of Corinth in Ancient Greece around A.D. 54. Paul had planted the church in Corinth on his second missionary journey (Acts 17:16-18:17). After receiving both a concerning report about the church from “Chloe’s people” (v. 11) and a letter from the Corinthians themselves asking Paul various questions (7:1), Paul penned this letter to respond to a host of issues.

Much has been written about the city of ancient Corinth. Originally it was a Greek city in line with the so-called “Achaean league,” but it was destroyed by the Roman, Mummius, in 146 B.C. After almost 100 years of the city being left mostly desolate, it was reestablished as a Roman colony by Julius Caesar in 44 B.C.[1] By the time Paul arrived at Corinth in approximately 50 A.D., the city was at the height of its glory.[2] As with most other Roman colonies, it had essentially become a little Rome, full of its grandeur and enticements.

Corinth was well known for its immorality. In the ancient world, to “Corinthianize” became synonymous with the act of fornication, and Plato created the euphemism “Corinthian girl” for a prostitute.[3] With this in mind, it is less surprising that sexual immorality was among the issues that Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians (5:1-13). Additionally, Corinth was well known for its “Isthmian games,” which were athletic competitions very similar to those of the Olympics. This is likely why Paul uses athletic imagery (racing, boxing, a laurel “crown that fades” which would have been given to victors in the Isthmian games) in 1 Corinthians 9:24-28.

One of the main problems with this church is that they thought and acted just like the pagan world around them (3:3). They were divided amongst themselves based upon certain leaders and personalities (1-4); they were proud of explicit sexual immorality within the church (5); they were taking other church members to court (6); they were causing one another to stumble when it came to food sacrificed to idols (8-10); and they were divisive when it came to the gifts of the Spirit and how those gifts related to the gathered body (12-14).

In other words, this church had so many issues that one wonders why any modern church would want to be named after it (I once was an interim pastor at a small, Godly church called “Corinth Baptist Church”). Yet Paul, under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, is going to address each of these issues (and many more!) throughout this wonderful letter. Furthermore, Paul gives us added doctrinal clarity on a host of other topics, including sanctification (1:2), godly leadership in the church (3-4), church discipline (5), navigating conscience issues within the church (8-10), singleness and marriage (7), principles for Christian giving and generosity (9), the Lord’s Supper (11), proper use of spiritual gifts within the church (12-14), and the resurrection of Christ (15).

1 Corinthians is an incredible book covering a host of matters, and churches today need to hear and heed its message.

2. Preaching Outlines

John MacArthur’s Outline:

  1. Called to be Saints – 1:1-3
  2. The Benefits of Being a Saint – 1:4-9
  3. Splits and Quarrels in the Church – 1:10-17
  4. The Foolishness of God, Part 1 – 1:18-25
  5. The Foolishness of God, Part 2 – 1:21-28
  6. The Foolishness of God, Part 3 – 1:29-2:5
  7. Understanding the Wisdom of God – 2:6-16
  8. The Disease of Division – 3:1-9
  9. The Judgment of the Believer’s Works – 3:10-17
  10. All Things are Yours – 3:18-23
  11. Examining the Servants of Christ – 4:1-5
  12. Humility and Conceit – 4:6-13
  13. How to be a Spiritual Father – 4:14-21
  14. Immorality in the Church, Part 1: Delivering the Immoral to Satan – 5:1-5
  15. Immorality in the Church, Part 2: Disciplining Sin in the Church – 5:6-13
  16. Forbidden Lawsuits – 6:1-8
  17. Forgive Because You’re Forgiven – 6:9-11
  18. Christian Liberty and Sexual Freedom – 6:12-20
  19. To Marry or Not to Marry – 7:1-7
  20. Divine Guidelines for Marriage – 7:8-16
  21. Christians and Social Revolution – 7:17-24
  22. Reasons for Remaining Single, Part 1: Because of the World – 7:25-31
  23. Reasons for Remaining Single, Part 2 – 7:32-40
  24. The Limits of Our Liberty, Part 1 – 8:1-3
  25. The Limits of Our Liberty, Part 2 – 8:4-13
  26. Supporting the Man of God – 9:1-14
  27. Refusing to Use Your Liberty – 9:15-18
  28. Giving Up to Gain – 9:19-27
  29. The Danger of Overconfidence, Part 1 – 10:1-6
  30. The Danger of Overconfidence, Part 2 – 10:7-10
  31. The Danger of Overconfidence, Part 3 – 10:13
  32. The Truth about Idolatry – 10:14-15
  33. The Outrage of Idolatry – 10:15-22
  34. Principles of Christian Freedom – 10:23-11:1
  35. The Subordination and Equality of Women – 11:2-6
  36. The Role of the Godly Woman – 11:7-16
  37. The Celebration of the Lord’s Supper, Part 1 – 11:17-22
  38. The Celebration of the Lord’s Supper, Part 2 – 11:23-34
  39. Concerning Spiritual Gifts, Part 1 – 12:1
  40. Concerning Spiritual Gifts, Part 2 – 12:2-3
  41. Concerning Spiritual Gifts, Part 3 – 12:4-7, 11
  42. The Gifted Men, Part 1: Apostles and Prophets – 12:28
  43. The Gifted Men, Part 2: Evangelists, Pastors, and Teachers – 12:28
  44. The Permanent Edifying Gifts, Part 1 – 12:8-10
  45. The Permanent Edifying Gifts, Part 2 – 12:8-10
  46. The Permanent Edifying Gifts, Part 3 – 12:9-10
  47. The Temporary Sign Gifts, Part 1 – 12:10
  48. The Temporary Sign Gifts, Part 2 – 12:9, 28, 30
  49. The Temporary Sign Gifts, Part 3 – 12:9, 28, 30
  50. Spirit Baptism – 12:12-13
  51. One Body, Many Gifts, Part 1 – 12:12-28
  52. One Body, Many Gifts, Part 2 – 12:15-31
  53. Languages without Love – 13:1
  54. The Prominence of Love – 13:1-3
  55. The Qualities of True Love, Part 1 – 13:4a-c
  56. The Qualities of True Love, Part 2 – 13:4d-5c
  57. The Qualities of True Love, Part 3 – 13:5c-6
  58. The Qualities of True Love, Part 4 – 13:7
  59. The Permanence of Love, Part 1 – 13:8
  60. The Permanence of Love, Part 2 – 13:8
  61. The Permanence of Love, Part 3 – 13:8-13
  62. The Truth about Tongues, Part 1 – 14:1-5
  63. The Truth about Tongues, Part 2 – 14:6-19
  64. The Truth about Tongues, Part 3 – 14:20-25
  65. The Truth about Tongues, Part 4 – 14:26-40
  66. An Overview of Resurrection Truth – 15:1-58
  67. The Evidence for Resurrection, Part 1 – 15:1-4
  68. The Evidence for Resurrection, Part 2 – 15:5-11
  69. The Results of Denying Bodily Resurrection – 15:12-19
  70. The Resurrection Plan – 15:20-28
  71. Resurrection Incentives – 15:29-34
  72. Our Resurrection Bodies – 15:35-49
  73. Victory over Death – 15:50-58
  74. Concerning the Collection, Part 1 – 16:1-2
  75. Concerning the Collection, Part 2 – 16:2
  76. Concerning the Collection, Part 3 – 16:2-4
  77. Doing the Lord’s Work in the Lord’s Way, Part 1 – 16:5-9
  78. Doing the Lord’s Work in the Lord’s Way, Part 2 – 16:9-12
  79. Principles for Powerful Living – 16:13-14
  80. Love in the Fellowship, Part 1 – 16:14-18
  81. Love in the Fellowship, Part 2 – 16:19-24

Stephen Um’s Outline:[4]

  1. Surprised by Encouragement – 1:1-9
  2. The Appeal of Unity – 1:10-17
  3. Rewriting the Storyline – 1:18-2:5
  4. A New Understanding of Community – 2:6-16
  5. God-Given Growth – 3:1-9
  6. The Architecture of Community – 3:10-23
  7. A Proper Evaluation – 4:1-13
  8. The Indispensability of Authority – 4:14-21
  9. The Grace of Discipline ­– 5:1-13
  10. Grace and Grievances – 6:1-11
  11. Sex – 6:12-20
  12. The Beauty of Marriage – 7:1-16
  13. On Calling – 7:17-24
  14. Singleness – 7:25-40
  15. The Right Use of Rights – 8:1-13
  16. The End(s) of Entitlement – 9:1-18
  17. An Effective Witness – 9:19-27
  18. Escaping Idolatry – 10:1-22
  19. The Glory of God and the Good of Neighbor – 10:23-11:1
  20. Issues in the Worshipping Community – 11:2-16
  21. Discerning the Body – 11:17-34
  22. A Gift-Giving God – 12:1-11
  23. The Gift of Interdependence – 12:12-31a
  24. What is Love – 12:31b-13:13
  25. An Upbuilding Project – 14:1-25
  26. Order Out of Chaos – 14:26-40
  27. The Power of the Gospel – 15:1-11
  28. Resurrection – 15:12-34
  29. The Resurrection Body – 15:35-49
  30. Victory Over Death – 15:50-58
  31. A Community of Reconciliation – 16:1-11
  32. A Common Bond – 16:12-24

3. Problem Passages

1 Corinthians 1:25, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

When you first read this, it may take you by surprise and sound rather unbiblical to you. Did Paul just say that God has foolishness and that God has weakness? I thought He was infinite in wisdom and infinite in strength. How are we to make sense of this? There are a couple of things that should be said. First, it would be misreading Paul to think that he actually said there is any weakness or foolishness in God. Rather, Paul is trying to illustrate the point that the very thing God has done in the crucifixion of Christ has made God appear foolish and weak to the eyes of men. This is supported by the prior verses where Paul describes the cross as a stumbling block for Jews and folly for Gentiles (v. 23).

Second, because of the Greek grammar that Paul uses here, the verse could also be translated, “Because the foolish thing or act of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weak thing or act of God is stronger than human strength.” This translation gets more at the point of what Paul is actually saying, namely that, though the message of the cross appears to be foolish and weak, what God has done in Christ is actually wiser and stronger than anything man could have come up with. Therefore, no, this verse does not pose an ontological problem for us concerning God’s nature; rather, Paul is stressing that it is when we embrace the seemingly foolish and weak act of God in the crucifixion of Christ that we truly become wise.

1 Corinthians 5:5, “You are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.”

For this verse, there are two questions that must be answered. First, what does it mean “to deliver this man to Satan”? And second, what does the “destruction of the flesh” entail?

Dealing with these questions in order, there are two prominent ways “deliver this man to Satan” has been understood. The first is that Paul is calling for the church to consign this man to a literal and physical death, i.e., they are to expel him outside the church so that Satan can physically kill him. While there are numerous reasons why this interpretation is not likely, the most significant is that Paul seems to have in mind a salvific motive for the punishment.[5] That is, Paul is calling the church to exercise church discipline so that the man might repent and be restored to the body. Unless one adopts a less-than-biblical view of salvation where one can be saved after death, this interpretation is rendered void.

The second and more likely way to interpret “deliver this man to Satan” is that the church of Corinth was to expel this man from the body of Christ, thereby placing him back into Satan’s realm, i.e. the world. This expulsion means that the individual would be removed from God’s protection and benefits found in the local church, and that he is now vulnerable to Satanic attacks and forces.[6] Jonathan Leeman provides a helpful metaphor of “Kingdom Embassies” that can aid in communicating the intent here.[7] The local church is meant to function like little embassies of the Kingdom of God. To hand one over to Satan, then, is to revoke one’s passport, so to speak, so that one no longer has the same access to the rights, privileges, and protections found inside the kingdom of God.

Second, there are traditionally two ways to interpret “the destruction of the flesh.” Connected to the first view of “deliver this man to Satan” mentioned above, one interpretation suggests that “the destruction of the flesh” entails physical death. This interpretation views “flesh” literally and sees the destruction referring to the physical body. The second and more likely view interprets “flesh” metaphorically as referring to the sinner’s sinful nature. Paul uses flesh in this way elsewhere, as seen in both Romans 8:13, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live,” and Galatians 5:24, “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

Therefore, Paul calls the Corinthians to expel this unrepentant sinful man back into Satan’s domain with the hope that it will be the means by which his sinful flesh is dealt with so that he can be restored before he stands before the Lord in judgment.

1 Corinthians 6:1-3, “When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life!”

In these verses, two questions usually arise for the modern reader: first, how exactly will the saints judge the world? And second, what does it mean that Christians will judge angels? Before seeking to answer these questions, it will be helpful to set up the wider context concerning litigation in the church at Corinth (6:1-11).

Most commentators see the issue in these verses to be lawsuits (perhaps concerning sexual matters? cf. 1 Cor. 6:9-10) between more influential church members (those from a higher social status) and less influential church members (those from a lower social status). It is often argued that those who were from a higher status would win the cases due to their social status and bribery. Those from the upper echelons of society used their status, reputations, and wealth to manipulate the courts in their favor. Those from the lower status never stood a chance at a fair trial. However, Bruce Winter has pointed out that, while those from more advantaged positions would normally initiate litigation, it cannot be proved that the opposing party was not also from the upper class. Therefore, Winter argues that Paul’s main point is that the church should not be taking “trivial cases” or minor “grievances” before morally questionable and non-Christian Corinthian judges.[8] Rather, because of the fact that the saints will judge the world and angels, surely there is one among them who can fairly arbitrate between fellow believers on lesser matters.

With this context in mind, what does Paul mean by “the saints will judge the world”? Though there is significant debate concerning this passage, more than likely, Paul is alluding to the LXX (the Greek translation) of Daniel 7:22 which can be translated as, “Until the Ancient of Days came, and he gave judgement to the saints of the most high.” Though different Jews who followed the writing of Daniel interpreted this verse in different ways, one of the more predominant thoughts is that God’s people will join him in judging the nations. This can be seen in an intertestamental Jewish work titled “The Wisdom of Solomon”, which states in 3:8-9, “They [God’s people] shall judge the nations.” Yet, it is also clear that God’s judgment will be carried out by Christ himself when he returns at the end of the age (Acts 17:31). How are these two views reconciled? The answer is found in the saints’ union with Christ. Paul Gardner helpfully elaborates on this saying:

Paul believes that God’s people are involved with the work of their Lord and caught up in his status, being found “in Christ” and participating covenantally with him. They are involved in his work and are incorporated in him as they are represented by him. Just as Paul is able to say that “we [Christians] have died with Christ” (Rom 6:8), “we will also live with him” (2 Tim 2:11), and “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20), so he can envisage God’s people caught up in all that is true of the Lord Christ. If Christ is judge of the world, it stands to reason that those “in Christ” will judge the world, just as it seems Daniel had seen in his vision.[9]

Additionally, this understanding helps us to interpret why Paul can say that the saints will judge angels. We know from other passages of Scripture (Jude 6; 2 Peter 2:4), that fallen angels will be judged on the last day. Therefore, because believers are united to Christ, they will also take part in the judgment of angels. Once again, the main point of Paul’s greater-to-lesser argument is that if believers will take part in the judgment of the world and of angels, surely there is someone in the body who can help sort through issues of much less significance that arise in the church.

1 Corinthians 7:10;12, “To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband… To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever…”

These verses often appear as a stumbling block to evangelicals who have a high view of Scripture. When they read “not I, but the Lord” and “I, not the Lord,” their first thought is “wait a minute, is this not inspired Scripture? What does it mean that Paul says this but the Lord does not?” The good news is that properly understanding these verses is relatively simple and, as a result, nonalarming.

Whenever Paul says, “not I, but the Lord,” he is addressing an issue, marriage and divorce, that the Lord Jesus spoke directly about during his earthly ministry (Matthew 5:32; 19:9). When he says, “I, not the Lord,” he is addressing an issue that the Lord did not directly speak to, i.e., being married to an unbeliever. Therefore, Paul is not saying that his words are any less authoritative or uninspired; rather, he is simply stating that Jesus had already spoken about the one issue, but now Paul is giving further clarity about the other, which had not previously been addressed by Christ.

1 Corinthians 7:14, “For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.”

In the verses just prior, Paul has been arguing that if an unbelieving spouse consents to live with a Christian, the believer should not divorce the unbelieving spouse. Verse 14, then, offers the justification for Paul’s previous comments. It appears that the Corinthians were concerned that their mixed marriages might make themselves and their children unclean. Especially after having just read (or heard) what Paul wrote in the previous chapter about being sexually united to a prostitute, Paul wants to counter their potential thought that the same would apply to any sexual relationship with non-believers.

But instead of the Christian becoming unclean due to their marriage to a non-believer, Paul says that the reverse happens; namely, the unbeliever and their children become holy. Now, what Paul means by “is made holy” is subject to debate. What is clear is that this holiness is not related to belief in Christ because the unbeliever still needs to be saved (7:16).

One of the more commendable viewpoints is that Paul is using Jewish terminology for betrothal and marriage.[10] David Instone Brewer writes:

In Jewish society the concept of marriage as a transfer of ownership had already disappeared by the first century. The Old Testament word for betrothal, erubin, suggested that a wife was ‘acquired,’ and so the word kiddushin, ‘sanctified,’ was used instead, which suggests that the bride and groom set themselves apart, or sanctified themselves, for each other.[11]

In accord with this understanding, another scholar notes that this “sanctification” would make the forthcoming marriage “licit” or legitimate.[12] He continues:

Paul used Jewish betrothal language in a new way when he ruled that an unbeliever is “sanctified” by a believing spouse. Given the prohibition of Jesus against divorce, any marriage in which there was a believer was ruled to be licit, and Jewish language of betrothal provided a linguistic proof that the sanctification of the spouse and the licitness of the union were guaranteed…While he recognizes a boundary separating the community of believers from unbelievers, analogous to the boundary between Jews and Gentiles, he does not agree…that insider-outsider marriage results in the ritual defilement of offspring. Instead, like the rabbis, Paul allows that (at least preexisting) marriage between an insider and an outsider may be sanctified—that is, licit—although it is not the superior form of licit marriage[13]

So, unlike in Judaism where both spouses had to be Jewish for the marriage to be licit, Paul is affirming that, for those who were converted to Christ but their spouse was not, their marriage is still licit because the believing spouse sanctifies the unbelieving spouse and their children. Therefore, the marriage is still legitimate and should not be abandoned unless the unbelieving spouse refuses to remain married to the believer (7:15). For further explications and implications of this view, see Ciampa and Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, 297-302.

1 Corinthians 10:4, “…and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.”

In this section of 1 Corinthians, Paul seeks to make the dangers of idolatry clear. In order to do so, he appeals to the Old Testament account of Israel’s wilderness wanderings as an authoritative account that is directly relevant to the followers of Christ in Corinth. Though the Israelites all partook of the supernatural provision of the Lord (the manna from heaven and the water provided from a rock, see Exodus 16; 17; and Numbers 11; 20), most of them did not please the Lord and were cut off because of their idolatry. Similarly, just because the Corinthians have partaken in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper does not mean that they too will be preserved if they continue to participate in idolatry. The point of the passage is powerfully summarized by Garland:

His [Paul’s] primary concern is to turn the Corinthians away from their reckless association with idolatry, and he wants to show how closely what they are doing parallels Israel’s lunacy in spurning their Rock of salvation by mixing idolatrous practices with their worship of God. If the Corinthians do likewise, they can expect the same disastrous consequences that befell Israel. If they were to counter that their situation is different because they have received Christ’s benefits, he would respond, ‘So did the Israelites!’ He intends for them to recognize the direct parallel between Israel’s situation and their own so that they might swerve from the path leading to inevitable destruction.[14]

But the comment that “they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them” is still difficult to understand. If one were to look at the passages that detail Israel’s wilderness wandering, the first time God provided water from the rock (Exodus 17:1-7) comes at the beginning of the Israelites’ time in the wilderness, and the second time God provided water from the rock comes at the end of their time in the wilderness (Numbers 20:1-12). This structure is intentional, and it is meant to illustrate that God graciously provided the Israelites with water throughout their entire time in the wilderness. From noticing this structure, a Jewish tradition developed which stated that “the rock of Exodus 17 and the rock of Numbers 20 are one and the same.”[15] It is likely that Paul was drawing upon this exegetical tradition when he states that the rock was following them. Yet, what Paul says is also very unique. Unlike the Jewish tradition, he notes that “the rock was Christ.” Now, whether or not Paul was creating a direct analogy, using allegorical interpretation, or doing something else is up for debate, and you should check out some of the more detailed commentaries for an analysis of the options. For the purposes of this preaching guide, one likely option is voiced by Ciampa and Rosner as they draw on the work of Wayne Meeks:

In 1 Corinthians 10:20–22 Paul will clearly draw on Deuteronomy 32. As Meeks says, Paul found “in Deuteronomy 32 phrases that were suggestive for his admonition to the Corinthian Christians.” That opens the possibility that his reference to the rock being Christ may have been influenced by the rock motif found in that chapter (32:4, 13, 15, 18, 30, 31). As Meeks points out, “Rock” is “the preferred name for God” in the Hebrew text of that chapter. Interestingly, the only other place the word is used in Deuteronomy outside chapter 32 is in 8:15, which affirms that God “brought you water out of the flinty rock.[16]

Therefore, Garland is likely correct when he states that Paul “may have made the shift from God as the Rock in the Scriptures to Christ as Rock in the same way that he applied the references to God as ‘Lord’ in the Scriptures to Christ.”[17]

1 Corinthians 11:4-16, “Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.”

This is one of the most difficult passages to interpret in the entire Bible. There are numerous views on what Paul meant in these verses, and it would be woefully ignorant for one to assume that this preaching guide could settle the debates once and for all. Instead, I will give a summary of the big picture that is less controversial, and then I will give a list of questions on the more controversial verses that need to be considered in detail by turning to some of the major commentaries. A detailed discussion of each difficult verse is beyond the scope of this preaching guide.

To begin, Paul shifts his focus in this section of the letter to address issues related to corporate worship (chapters 11-14). In this passage (11:4-16), he is primarily concerned with the adornment of women in worship. The major feature that Paul addresses regarding women’s adornment seems to be directly related to a proper understanding of the God-given authority in the church. Paul grounds his discussion in a theological reality, that is, “The head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God” (v. 3). In verse four, men are said to bring shame upon Christ if they pray or prophesy with their head covered, and in verses five and six, woman are said to bring shame up their heads if they prophesy without their head covered. Verses seven through ten unpack further theological realities that undergird Paul’s commands. Men should not have their hair covered because they are the image and glory of God (v. 7), but because woman is the glory of man, she should have her hair covered (v. 7). To elaborate on this statement, Paul grounds it in the creation narrative where the woman came from man (v. 8), and the woman was created for the man and not man for the woman (v. 9). Verse 10, notoriously difficult to understand, states that this is why women should have a symbol of authority on their head, and then adds a second clause “on account of” or “because of the angels.” To make sure he is not misunderstood, Paul then clarifies that women are not inferior to men, but, as Schreiner states, “In the Lord, both men and women are mutually dependent on one another (v. 11). The first woman came from man, but thereafter all men have come from women (v. 12), though God is the ultimate source of all things.”[18] Paul then rhetorically asks, “Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?” (v. 13), with the expected answer, “No.” He then appeals to nature to suggest that long hair for a man is a disgrace (v. 14), but long hair for a woman is her glory (v. 15), and her hair was given to her “for” or “instead” of a covering (v. 15). Paul concludes this section by stating that what he has written concerning women adorning themselves in worship is the standard practice amongst all the churches. These are not special circumstances just reserved for the church at Corinth (v. 16).

Further questions concerning debated verses include: From verse 3, what is the proper meaning of “head”? From verse 4, why does is disgrace a man’s head if he prays or prophecies with his head covered? From verse 5, why does it disgrace a woman’s head if she prays or prophecies with her head uncovered? Also from verse 5, why is a woman praying or prophesying with her head uncovered the same thing as having her head shaved? Why was it disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off? Does this still apply today? From verse 8, what does it mean that woman is the glory of man? From verse 10, what does it mean that “woman should have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels?” From verse 14, what does Paul mean by “nature”? Also from verse 14, why was it disgraceful for men to have long hair? From verse 15, why is long hair a woman’s glory? Also from verse 15, was her hair given to her “for” a covering or instead of a covering? Additionally, is “covering” the best translation for “περιβολαίου?”

For an extended discussion on the context, background, and answers to these debated questions, please see one of the major exegetical commentaries on 1 Corinthians listed below.

1 Corinthians 14:34-35, “The women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

This passage is roiled in controversy because of the strong word against women speaking in church. Does this mean that once a woman walks through the door of the church she must remain completely silent? Surely not. After all, this would contradict what Paul said in 11:2-16, where he speaks of women prophesying and praying in the assembly. What then does Paul mean? One of the more common views is stated by Garland: “In the context, it is likely that Paul imagines a wife joining in the process of weighing what is being said during the congregational scrutiny of prophecy…By doing so, they compromise their husband’s authority over them and appear to undermine the good order of the household.”[19] While this view certainly makes sense, it is hard to derive that this prohibition is specifically related to women judging prophecy from the immediate context. As Schreiner states, “Paul forbids speaking in general and gives no clue that judging prophecies is specifically in view.”[20] Schreiner continues to give an alternative view that is likely correct. He says:

We see in verse 35 that wives are told to ask their “husbands at home”. It seems fair to infer, therefore, that wives were asking disruptive or challenging questions and interrupting the congregational meetings. They were not free to speak in this way, for a wife’s public disagreement with her husband in the ancient world would be viewed as humiliating and would dishonor him. Such a reading does not lead to the conclusion that all the women were asking questions in such a way, but Paul uses the occasion to say that no woman should interrupt the service. Equally, such a reading does not lead to the conclusion that men and women were sitting apart; it requires only that some women were interrupting by asking questions in a way that challenged authority.[21]

Another question is what passage of Scripture Paul is referencing when he states that women “should be in submission, as the Law also says” (v. 34). This is a touch puzzling at first since no Old Testament passage has this instruction explicitly stated. However, Paul is likely referring to the creation narrative in Genesis 2. Once again, Schreiner is helpful in this regard:

The leaders in the congregation should be men since (1) man was created first (Gen. 2:20–21); (2) woman was created as man’s helper (Gen. 2:18, 20); (3) the instructions about not eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil were given to the man (Gen. 2:16–17); (4) the man named the woman (Gen. 2:23); (5) the serpent subverted male leadership by approaching Eve (Gen. 3:1–6); and (6) Adam was more responsible for the sin than Eve since God approached him first, even though Eve sinned first (Gen. 3:10–12; Rom. 5:12–19).[22]

With this account in view, Paul’s point is that the law does not allow for a wife to behave in an insubordinate manner that could potentially bring reproach on her or her husband. This seems to relate well to the situation found in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35; hence, “let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church” (v. 35).

1 Corinthians 15:29, “Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?”

For the average evangelical, this is perhaps one of the most alarming verses in all of the New Testament. The alarm is largely due to the fact that this is the only reference to a baptism of the dead in the N.T., and the concept immediately appears heretical and out of place with the rest of the Scriptures (and rightly so!). As always in sound, biblical interpretation, help comes by reading this verse in its immediate context. In the prior verses, Paul is arguing for the validity of the resurrection of the dead based upon Christ’s resurrection (1 Cor. 15:12-28). Then, starting with v. 29, he gives arguments based upon experience that make no sense if Christ has not actually been resurrected from the grave. Following the controversial v. 29, he discusses his own dangerous decisions (fighting with beasts at Ephesus, v. 32) ultimately displaying that his death-defying escapades were all worth nothing if Christ has not been resurrected from the dead. Or as Paul puts it, “If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die’” (cf. Isaiah 22:13). In light of this context, it appears that in v. 29, Paul is appealing to the Corinthian practice of baptisms on behalf of the dead to further argue for the validity of the resurrection. Though we cannot be certain as to why some of the Corinthians were being baptized on behalf of the dead, it is likely that they were being baptized on behalf of other believers who died before being baptized themselves. Regardless of where this practice is derived from, Paul’s point is not to explain or defend baptism on behalf of the dead at all; rather, he points to the absurdity of this practice if there was no resurrection. In other words, he is using their own experiences to show them the inconsistency of denying the resurrection. While we may wish that Paul would have said more or condemned this practice amongst the Corinthians, that was simply not his point. Therefore, if rightly understood within Paul’s argument for the resurrection, this verse should not be that alarming after all. Read in this way, any doctrine or modern practices developed off of this verse in favor of baptisms on behalf of the dead are misplaced and exegetically bankrupt.

4. Key Themes and Motifs

“You are the Lord’s”

Though Paul addresses many different topics throughout 1 Corinthians, a controlling theme runs through the entire letter. That theme is that all believers belong to the Lord; He is their Master, and they are his possessions. This is first seen in verse 2 where Paul writes, “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.” Additionally, there are verses that accentuate “Christ’s ownership” (6:13, 6:19-20; 7:22-23; 10:26), verses concerned with “pleasing the master” (7:32,34,35,39; 16:10; 16:22), verses emphasizing “not belonging to men” (3:3-4; 3:21-23; 7:22-23; 9:19), and verses that discuss “the superintendence by the master” (3:5; 4:4-5; 5:4-5; 7:12, 17, 25; 8:5-6; 9:14; 10:21-22; 11:23-32; 12:3; 12:18, 24 (God), 28 (God); 14:37; 15:38; 16:7, 57-58; 16:7).[23] In all of the different issues that the Corinthians faced, Paul reminds them “whose” they are. They are under the authority of Christ, and they are not free to do as they choose. Paul is wanting this worldly church to rightly understand that if Christ is truly their Lord, then He has a direct effect on how they will live on a daily basis.

5. Commentaries and Resources

Pastoral Commentaries:

Blomberg, Craig L. 1 Corinthians. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994.

Carson, D. A. The Cross and Christian Ministry: Leadership Lessons from 1 Corinthians. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2018.

Morris, Leon. 1 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, v. 7. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008.

Schreiner, Thomas R. 1 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Volume 7. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2018.

Um, Stephen T. 1 Corinthians: The Word of the Cross. Preaching the Word. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015.

Technical Commentaries:

Brookins, Timothy A., and Bruce W. Longenecker. 1 Corinthians 1-9: A Handbook on the Greek Text. Baylor Handbook on the Greek New Testament. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2016.

———. 1 Corinthians 10-16: A Handbook on the Greek Text. Baylor Handbook on the Greek New Testament. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2016.

Ciampa, Roy E., and Brian S. Rosner. The First Letter to the Corinthians. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010.

Gardner, Paul. 1 Corinthians. Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018.

Garland, David E. 1 Corinthians. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003.

Thiselton, Anthony C. The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text. The New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2013.

Other Resources:

Bitner, Bradley J. Paul’s Political Strategy in 1 Corinthians 1-4: Constitution and Covenant. Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series 163. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

Savage, Timothy B. Power Through Weakness: Paul’s Understanding of the Christian Ministry in 2 Corinthians. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2004 (Though this book is on 2 Corinthians, it has an excellent discussion on ancient Corinth and the Corinthians).

6. How to Preach Christ from This Book

Christ is seen throughout the entire letter, but here are some specific ways that you can preach Christ from 1 Corinthians (though many more could be added):

  1. Christ is Lord of all those who call upon Him, and this has radical implications for one’s life (1:2, see the “Key Themes and Motifs” section above).
  2. Christ’s sacrifice breaks down all divisions within the church, and true unity is only found in Him (1:10-17).
  3. The word (i.e., message) of Christ’s cross is folly to the world, but it is the power of God to those who are being saved (1:18-2:15).
  4. Christ is the glorious foundation on which the church is built (3:10-15).
  5. Christ, as our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed for our sin; therefore, the church must be pure and rid of unrepentant sin (5:1-13).
  6. Christ can wash, sanctify, and justify even the worst of sinners (6:11).
  7. Christ paid the price to redeem us; therefore, we must glorify God with our bodies (6:12-20).
  8. Christ is the creator and sustainer of all things (8:7).
  9. Christ is preexistent. He was the Rock the Israelites drank from in the wilderness (10:4) and was also the One the Israelites put to test in the wilderness of sin (10:9).
  10. Christ’s broken body and spilt blood is remembered and proclaimed each time the Lord’s Supper is taken (11:23-26).
  11. Christ has given members of his body different gifts so that the body is fully functional and built up in Him (12:1-29).
  12. Christ is the epitome of love (13:1-13).
  13. Christ has been triumphantly resurrected thereby conquering sin and death, and, by his resurrection, he guarantees his followers future resurrection (15:1-58).

 

7. Conclusion: Why You Should Preach This Book

Though there are many reasons why pastors should preach through 1 Corinthians, consider these 6 reasons:

  1. You should preach 1 Corinthians because of the way it addresses division in the church. As there were divisions in the church at Corinth (1:11), so there are divisions within the church today. Whether it concern politics, social justice, the Covid vaccination, masks or no masks, women’s roles in the church, Christian nationalism, etc., there are numerous challenges that are capable of sowing seeds of discord within our congregations. All of these issues need thoughtful attention from leaders in the church, and 1 Corinthians offers us God’s perspective on how legitimate unity is not only desired but also accomplished within the local church.
  2. You should preach 1 Corinthians because of its clear and humbling teaching on how to lead and build the body of Christ well. In a time when there seems to be more and more “celebrity pastors”, when some ministerial students seem to be more concerned with achieving a big ministry platform than with character and holiness, and when some pastors seek to use social media to pastor the evangelical world rather than to “shepherd the flock of God that is among them” (1 Peter 5:2), we need to be reminded from 1 Corinthians 3:7 that “neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” Further, leaders in the church today need to recognize the reality of the inspection day that is coming for their ministries (3:13-15). On that day, pastors and leaders will be judged on how well they built a unified church with the “folly” of the gospel on the foundation of Christ (3:10-11), not how many social media followers they had, how they were perceived by both the believing and non-believing world, how much money was in their bank accounts and 401k, or how many people they preached to on a weekly basis. 1 Corinthians, especially chapters 3-4, offers a timely word for pastors and leaders in today’s church.
  3. You should preach 1 Corinthians because it reveals the necessity of regenerate church membership and church discipline. Unfortunately, it seems that most American churches have a hard time differentiating themselves from the rest of the world. When our churches allow unrepentant sin to fester in the church without being addressed, it spreads like yeast within the flock (5:6), Christ’s name is dishonored, and the power of the gospel is tarnished. 1 Corinthians 5 explicitly teaches the need for the church to exercise church discipline on unrepentant members. This, therefore, implicitly teaches the necessity of having regenerate church membership. Paul states, “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside” (5:12-13). How can one distinguish between the inside and outside of the church without actually having meaningful membership? In a day when talking about sin in church is disdained, we must remember that faithfulness to God and His word is far more important than making sure nobody feels uncomfortable. Whenever confession of sin and accountability for sin are far from the church, so is the Lord. 1 Corinthians offers a timely rebuke in this regard.
  4. You should preach through 1 Corinthians because it will help your church members understand the conscience and how it impacts their life with other believers. I used to think that the conscience only played a small role in the life of the Christian and that it was relatively unimportant to understand and consider on a daily basis. However, I have since come to see that understanding the conscience is actually incredibly important for maintaining unity within the life of a local church. In chapters 8-10 of 1 Corinthians, we learn from Paul’s discussion on food sacrificed to idols how to love and live with those who differ from us on important though conscious-level matters. A robust understanding of the conscience will undoubtedly help local churches pursue and maintain unity in the midst of diversity on a number of issues.
  5. You should preach through 1 Corinthians because your church members need to be reminded of the radical love that they are called to show to one another. When we think of the “love” chapter (13), the first thing that often comes to mind is a wedding. Yet, we need to be reminded that this was written to a divided local church who had real issues to address and not to a gooey-eyed bride and groom. Your church desperately needs to see this chapter in its proper context and to then to see its radical implications for their life. In a day when minor disagreements on tertiary matters cause major faults in churches, we need to remember that we are called, in love, to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things (13:7) with other church members.
  6. Finally, you should preach through 1 Corinthians because your people need to be reminded of the resurrection. 1 Corinthians 15 is the most robust passage of Scripture in the entire New Testament on the resurrection of Christ and the believer’s future resurrection. The Christian faith rests on the fact that there was an empty tomb in Jerusalem over 2000 years ago. Christians need to be reminded that, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile, and you are still in your sins.” Yet, if Christ has been raised, and he has been, then we will also be raised in the resurrection on the last day (15:20-28). Furthermore, this liberates Christians to take risks for the sake of advancing the gospel, because they know that their bodily death in this life is not the end. This is what Paul is referring to when he states, “What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die’” (15:32). Because Christ has been raised, Paul was willing to suffer hardship and difficulty on account of his name. Because Christ has been resurrected, we can do the exact same thing! We can trust that, “Death is swallowed up in victory” and has lost its sting (15:55). In contrast to a life of ease and comfort, show your people that a life lived in light of Christ’s resurrection is the only kind of life worth living.

[1] For further information on first century Corinth, see J. Murphy-O’Connor, St. Paul’s Corinth: Texts and Archaeology, 3rd ed. (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2002) or Timothy B Savage, Power Through Weakness: Paul’s Understanding of the Christian Ministry in 2 Corinthians (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 19-54.

[2] Savage, Power Through Weakness, 36.

[3] J. Murphy-O Connor, St. Paul’s Corinth, 56.

[4] Stephen Um, 1 Corinthians: The Word of the Cross, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015).

[5] Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2013), 395.

[6] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 173.

[7] Jonathan Leeman, Political Church: The Local Assembly as Embassy of Christ’s Rule, Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2016).

[8] Winter, “Civil Litigation in Secular Corinth and the Church: The Forensic Background to 1 Cor 6:1-8,” NTS 37 (1991): 559-572.

[9] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 252.

[10] Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010), 298.

[11] David Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 233.

[12] Yonder Moynihan Gillihan, “Jewish Laws on Illicit Marriage, the Defilement of Offspring, and the Holiness of the Temple: A New Halakic Interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7:14” JBL 121/4 (2002), 718.

[13] Ibid., 729.

[14] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 458.

[15] Peter Enns, Exodus, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 31.

[16] Ciampa and Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians, 451.

[17] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 457.

[18] Thomas R. Schreiner, 1 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Volume 7 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2018), 220.

[19] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 668.

[20] Schreiner, 1 Corinthians, 297.

[21] Ibid., 297.

[22] Ibid., 298.

[23] This section is heavily dependent upon the lecture notes of Dr. Alan Tomlinson from Midwestern Seminary. Some of this material is also found in the Christian Standard Bible Study Bible notes on 1 Corinthians.