Sunday, October 21, 2012

Gifted: 1 Corinthians 14 in Context

    I have become convinced that confusing sections of the Bible become far more accessible and meaningful when 1st century Greek culture, language, and context are clearly understood.
     In order to do this, I consult multiple commentaries and translations of the passages in question, as well as study a range of writings by Christian theologians and historians.  The website has been particularly helpful in studying both the language and context of 1st century writings. In my current sermon series, I am using this principle to take a new look at issues in 1 Corinthians such as the head coveringthe Lord's supperthe food offered to idolsPaul's teaching about sex, the rambling topics in chapters  5 and 6 and the unusual analogies in chapter 3.  Even popular images such as the potter and the clay take on new life when contextualized.
     So, how would Paul write 1 Corinthians 14 if he were using 21st century English instead of 1st century Greek?  It may have sounded something like this:

Monday, October 15, 2012

Something Bigger Than Ourselves (1 Corinthians 11-12)

     Question: what do these four things have in common?
  • Android: ”In September 2012, there were more than 675,000 apps available for Android, and the estimated number of applications downloaded from Google Play was 25 billion.”
  • Apache: “Since April 1996 Apache has been the most popular HTTP server software in use. As of September 2012 Apache was estimated to serve 54.98% of all active websites and 58.49% of the top servers across all domains.”
  • Linux: “Linux has been ported to more computer hardware platforms than any other operating system. More than 90% of today's 500 fastest supercomputers run some variant of Linux. 60% of web-servers run Linux versus 40% that run Windows Server.”
  • Wikipedia: “23 million articles…100,000 active contributors… editions of Wikipedia in 285 languages…365 million readers worldwide… 2.7 billion monthly page views from the United States alone.” 
     Answer: they were all open sourced (or group sourced). In other words, the people creating them did not directly profit from them. They did it because they wanted to contribute to something in a meaningful way. The reward was not money or fame; it was being a part of something bigger than themselves.

    Paul beats this drum over and over: Being part of a church means we belong to something bigger than ourselves . Unfortunately, the church in Corinth  was floundering in their understanding of how this looks in ordinary church life. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Leveling the Playing Field - 1 Corinthians 11

"I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you.  But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head.  But every woman (or wife) who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved.  For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.
 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 did not come from woman, but woman from man;  neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. It is for this reason that a woman ought to have a symbol of authority to cover her own head, because of the angels.  Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman.  For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God."  (1 Corinthians 11: 2-11)

And all God's people scratched their heads and said, "What?"
There are plenty of topics to discuss in 1 Corinthians 11, but for the sake of brevity I will discuss only one.  The other questions are not unimportant; they are simply a topic for another time.

The Corinthian church contained a mix of Greek, Roman, and Jewish people.  As in all people groups, social status was really important. In this case the status was very visual, from shoes to togas to hats and hair. It was a way of saying very clearly, “I am somebody. I matter. And I am better than you.”  Those less fortunate showed the opposite very clearly.  In this particular passage there a particular visible issue – the status and symbol connected with hair and head coverings.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

All Things to All People (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)

The Apostle Paul often used figures of speech from arena competition.  In Corinth, the people were most familiar with the Isthmian Games.  Since Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 9 in that context, it’s worth learning a bit more about the games before looking at the passage.
      Athletes had to have the right credentials. They could not compete if they did not pass a background check that had to do with social class (they could not be slaves or criminals) and personal character (they could not be liars and cheats). They trained with intensity for ten months before even being allowed in the games. They ate a particular diet; they exercised a lot; they sacrificed many comforts for the sake of the games.
      During the games, a herald (which we translate “preacher”) had quite a few roles:
  • display the prizes
  • encourage the contestants
  • convince the audience they should emulate the contestants
  • explains the rules of each contest
  • announce the victors and crown them
     In fact, when the athletes entered the venue, the herald would loudly announce: “Who can accuse this man?” If no one did, he would say that since the contestant was not a slave, thief, or person of corrupt morals, he could enter the games. After the competition, the judges declared one winner, who received a crown of some type of vegetation.
     It’s in this context that Paul writes to the Corinthian church:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the 

prize.”  (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)