1 Corinthians: Interpreted by Early Christian Commentators

1 Corinthians: Interpreted by Early Christian Commentators

1 Corinthians: Interpreted by Early Christian Commentators

1 Corinthians: Interpreted by Early Christian Commentators


Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, one of the earliest Christian writings, had enormous influence on the formation of Christian teaching. In this Church's Bible volume Judith L. Kovacs weaves comments from all the commentaries and sermon series written in Latin or Greek between the years 250 and 800, illustrating the historic Christian understanding of this crucial text.

The church fathers gathered here include Augustine of Hippo, Irenaeus, Gregory of Nyssa, Athanasius, Origen, John Chrysostom, and many more. Preceding the line-by-line exegesis are a lucid essay by Robert Louis Wilken on how the church fathers interpreted the New Testament, an informative introduction to 1 Corinthians by Kovacs, and two chapters of general patristic commentary on Paul and on this letter. Completing the volume are several helpful appendixes and indexes.

Freshly translating many passages into idiomatic English for the first time, Kovacs does not merely excerpt random quotes from the church fathers but instead produces a sustained interaction with their direct comments on 1 Corinthians. This soaking in the wisdom of the past is sure to spiritually refresh and intellectually sharpen contemporary readers who seek to better understand this part of Scripture.


The volumes in The Church’s Bible are designed to present the Holy Scriptures as understood and interpreted during the first millennium of Christian history. The Christian Church has a long tradition of commentary on the Bible. In the early Church all discussion of theological topics, of moral issues, and of Christian practice took the biblical text as the starting point. The recitation of the psalms and meditation on books of the Bible, particularly in the context of the liturgy or of private prayer, nurtured the spiritual life. For most of the Church’s history theology and scriptural interpretation were one. Theology was called sacra pagina (the sacred page), and the task of interpreting the Bible was a spiritual enterprise.

During the first two centuries interpretation of the Bible took the form of exposition of select passages on particular issues. For example, Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons, discussed many passages from the Old and New Testaments in his defense of the apostolic faith against the Gnostics. By the beginning of the third century Christian bishops and scholars had begun to preach regular series of sermons that followed the biblical books verse by verse. Some wrote more scholarly commentaries that examined in greater detail grammatical, literary, and historical questions as well as theological ideas and spiritual teachings found in the texts. From Origen of Alexandria, the first great biblical commentator in the Church’s history, we have, among others, a large verse-by-verse commentary on the Gospel of John, a series of homilies on Genesis and Exodus, and a large part of his Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans. In the course of the first eight hundred years of Christian history Christian teachers produced a library of biblical commentaries and homilies on the Bible.

Today this ancient tradition of biblical interpretation is known only in bits and pieces, and even where it still shapes our understanding of the Bible, for example, in the selection of readings for Christian worship (e.g., Isaiah 7 and Isaiah 9 read at Christmas), or the interpretation of the Psalms in daily prayer, the spiritual world that gave it birth remains shadowy and indistinct. It is the purpose of this series to make available the richness of the Church’s classical tradition of interpretation for clergy, Sunday school and Bible class teachers, men and women living in religious communities, and all serious readers of the Bible.

Anyone who reads the ancient commentaries realizes at once that they are deeply . . .

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