The good folks over at Reformation 21 were so kind as to publish a little piece for me on the Pope’s recent denouncement of the death penalty. Head on over and check it out!
He is risen!
So we greet one another on Easter Sunday. We will be blessed to grasp the joy that truly underlies these words. I’m afraid that too often Christians speak about the resurrection as though it were merely an afterthought to Good Friday, Jesus’ happy ending or the proof that He accomplished His work. It is both of these things, but it is also the very joy of the gospel.
Paul was anxious that the Corinthian believers should understand the place of the resurrection in the Christian faith. Beginning in 1 Cor. 15, he described to them how utterly necessary the resurrection of Christ is: without it they have no hope, no forgiveness, and no future.
For the resurrection of Jesus Christ means new life for all who belong to Christ and are united with Him by faith. His cross and resurrection together make the center of His saving work. Because He rose from the dead, all those who trust in Him are even now spiritually made alive, risen from being dead in sin, and are guaranteed a future consummation of the resurrection life when He returns. Easter is no afterthought; Easter makes all the difference in the world.
He is risen!
He is risen, indeed!
Last month, Pope Francis gave a speech where he called for an end to the death penalty worldwide. It’s not my purpose here to discuss that broader issue, but just to make a small point about the biblical argument the pope used.
“The commandment ‘You shall not kill,’ has absolute value and applies to both the innocent and the guilty,” the pope said. If that’s true, it certainly is a knock-down argument in favor of abolishing the death penalty, as far as Christians are concerned.
But is it true?
The commandment is found in Exodus 20:13. Numerous bible versions give the translation the pope offered, “You shall not kill”, or similar, (RSV, ASV, DRA, KJV, CEB, BRG). However, it is much more often translated “You shall not murder”, or similar, (ESV, NIV, MEV, NET, NASB, WEB, etc). The reason why is easy to see.
When God spoke to Moses on Mt. Sinai, He didn’t just give the Ten Commandments, He said a great deal more. And in the very next chapter of Exodus, God who had said “You shall not kill” goes on to say “But if a man schemes and kills another man deliberately, take him away from my altar and put him to death” (21.14), “Anyone who attacks his father or his mother must be put to death” (21.15), “Anyone who kidnaps another and either sells him or still has him when he is caught must be put to death” (21.16), and so on.
I’m not trying to address the question of how the Mosaic law applies to modern American society any more than I’m trying to address the death penalty. What I simply wish to point out is that the command “You shall not kill” is certainly not absolute, and certainly does not apply to the guilty as well as to the innocent. God’s command spoke of murder, not of capital punishment nor of killing in war–which are both instances of killing that God commanded, at least in that particular context.
When we read the bible, we must read passages in their context. If we do not, we risk misusing the Word of God to promote our own agenda, rather than humbly aligning ourselves with what the Word of God actually says.
This is a little introduction I wrote for church:
Context on 1 Corinthians
“Context is king.”
“A text without a context is a pretext for a proof-text.”
What’s a Corinthian?
A Corinthian is somebody who lives in the city of Corinth. It would be like if all of us who live in Springfield were called Springfieldians. So 1 Corinthians is called that because it’s the first letter to the Corinthians.
Ancient Corinth has deteriorated somewhat since Paul’s day.
But where is this Corinth? Corinth sits on the little strip of land that connects the big southernmost piece of Greece with the northern part. It was a great cross-roads, strategically located for trade. Two hundred years before, the Romans had destroyed the city, but Julius Caesar re-established it and the place became populated by folks from all over. So we have a thriving cosmopolitan metropolis, wealthy, politically important, and filled with immorality and all manner of pagan beliefs—though there was a Jewish population, and shortly after Paul arrived, a Christian church.
Who Wrote 1 Corinthians?
The apostle Paul. For some time now, skeptical Biblical scholars have challenged the authorship of various books of the Bible, but 1 Corinthians is usually conceded to be Paul’s writing. But even if it were disputed, there are two good reasons for us to maintain that Paul wrote it.
The first reason is good, that Christian tradition claims Paul as the author of this letter. Now, tradition doesn’t have a binding authority over us; tradition has to be tested against greater authorities, especially the Scriptures. But if there aren’t substantial reasons for questioning Christian tradition, we should take it seriously.
The second reason is great, that the letter says Paul wrote it. The first thing he does in the letter is introduce himself: “Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes” (1 Cor. 1:1).
Hold on a minute! Why would we say Paul wrote it, if the greeting says “Paul…and our brother Sosthenes”? Because though he includes Sosthenes in the introduction, the whole letter is written from the perspective of Paul, and he consistently speaks to them in the first person singular—“I always thank God for you” (1:4), “When I came to you” (2:1), “To the rest I say this” (7:12), Am I not an apostle?” (9:1), etc. At the conclusion of the letter, he says “I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand” (16:21). So Sosthenes was included in the greeting, but Paul wrote the letter.
The apostle Paul, just chillin’.
As an interesting aside, we read in Acts 18:17 about a Sosthenes who was a Jewish leader who opposed Paul when he ministered in Corinth. If this is the same Sosthenes, then it hints at a wonderful unknown story of conversion of a former opponent of the gospel, like Paul himself, and makes perfect sense why Paul would make special mention of him when writing to the Corinthians.
But to come back to our bottom line, 1 Corinthians says Paul wrote it, and is consistently presented from his perspective. So the authority of the Scriptures, God’s inspired and fully truthful word, stands behind the claim that Paul wrote this letter. That alone settles the question.
To Whom Did He Write?
As the name of the letter implies, he was writing to the believers in the city of Corinth. At the letter’s beginning, Paul addresses the recipients of his letter: “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours” (1:2). This is a theologically rich address! Kinda makes you feel pretty lame for addressing your emails, “Dear John” or whatever, doesn’t it? But at the very least we have a clear picture, that the immediate letter of the audience wasn’t everybody in Corinth, but only those Corinthians who belonged to Christ and called Him Lord.
The letter is for us, too, since we call on the same Lord and these words have been included in the Scriptures for all God’s people. But since we’re not the original audience, we have to interpret carefully whether a passage applies to us in the same way as it did to those first century Corinthian believers. 1 Corinthians 2:12 does. 1 Corinthians 4:18 does not.
Did He Know the Corinthian Believers?
Yeah, totally. In Acts 18 we read that Paul went as a missionary to Corinth and preached the gospel there. This was obviously before he wrote the letter, because Acts 18:8 tells us that “Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord”, and Paul refers to him in 1 Corinthians 1:14. Paul spent a year and a half in Corinth (Acts 18:11) and many people there came to know the Lord through his ministry (18:8). So it stands to reason that many of the members of the Corinthian church, who received the letter, knew Paul personally as the one who led them to faith.
When Did He Write 1 Corinthians?
Clues pieced together by the historical evidence for Gallio, an official mentioned in Acts 18, suggest that Paul wrote the letter around the year 55, or possibly 56.
Hmm, interesting. Is that B.C. or A.D.?
Uh, do you really need to ask?
The city of Ephesus, as Paul says in 16:8. After his ministry in Corinth Paul went to Ephesus (Acts 18:18-19), then on through other regions before returning to Ephesus (Acts 19), which is probably the period during which he wrote 1 Corinthians.
Why did he write 1 Corinthians?
Oh. Lots of reasons. Overall, the purpose seems to be to address certain troublesome problems the church in Corinth was dealing with. Those problems include: division within the church (chapters 1-4), immorality (chapters 5-6), questions about marriage (chapter 7) and food sacrificed to idols (chapters 8-10), proper conduct in worship (chapters 11-14), and denial by some Corinthians of the resurrection of the dead (chapter 15).
So it is a letter addressing a lot of specific issues that the Corinthians were wrestling with. But this doesn’t mean it has nothing to say to us today. God’s truth is timeless, although it is often applied to specific situations. Look again at that list of problems the church at Corinth was dealing with, and you’ll see that the matter of food sacrificed to idols may be the only one not apparent as a challenge being faced by the American church in the 21st century. But even through that situation, though not strictly analogous to our own, God instructs us in how to honor Him and love one another.
 Lots of people have said this. Who knows who made it up.
 New Testament scholar D.A. Carson says that his father originated this phrase.
 On Corinth, see Carson and Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, Zondervan 2005, pp. 419-420.
 Carson and Moo, 419.
 By Linschoten pinx; Nicolaas Verkolje fec et exc (Nicolaas Teeuwisse) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
 Unless, of course, you are in fact writing a ‘dear John’ letter. In that case, simplicity is probably preferable.
 Carson and Moo, 448.
 See Carson and Moo, 448.