The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text

By Anthony C. Thiselton | Go to book overview

IV. Response to Inquiries about Marriage
and Related Issues and about
Associations with Idols (7:1–11:1)

The tone of 7:1–11:1 differs strikingly from that of 5:1–6:20. The ethical anomalies of the previous two chapters are clear-cut, and all the more serious because the Corinthian community showed no evidence of even wishing to invite Paul’s verdict on them. Paul’s tone in these previous chapters betrays a sense of keen disappointment and outrage. Hence Paul constantly repeats, “Do you not know… ?” “The treatment is direct and one-sided; all is black and white. He condemns the past behaviour of the Corinthians…. In general he… speaks for himself. He does not discuss or seek to persuade.”1 This is not at all the flavour of 7:1–11:1.

The response which Paul makes to inquiries from Corinth concern grey areas which invite extreme pastoral sensitivity towards specific variable factors and situations. The “previous letter” (5:9, ἔγραψα ὑμῖν ἐν τῇ ἐπιστολῇ …) and the Corinthians’ written letter to Paul (7:1, περὶ δὲ ὧν ἐγράψατε …) are no mere hypotheses of biblical scholarship, but find direct witness in the text of this epistle. Margaret Mitchell is right to express doubt about whether from here on “the structure of 1 Corinthians simply mirrors that of the Corinthians’ letter to Paul,” and whether περὶ δέ implies περὶ δὲ ὧν ἐγράψατε on each occasion of its use (7:1, 25; 8:1; 12:1; 16:1, 12).2 She argues that with the single proviso that the topic in question is readily known to both author and readers, the formula is simply “a topic marker” to introduce a new subject. Nevertheless there can be little doubt that 7:1–11:1 as a unit constitutes a reply to the Corinthians’ letter. For detailed arguments we refer readers to our Introduction, 32– 39, and to Hurd’s arguments and general criteria.3

The key point in this major block is Paul’s pastoral sensitivity to grey areas of difficulty. In particular Clarence E. Glad has recently argued convincingly for Paul’s recognition of the need for adaptability in the varied pastoral

1. Hurd, Origin of 1 Corinthians, 82; cf. 75-94.

2. M. M. Mitchell, Paul and the Rhetoric of Reconciliation, 190-191, and more especially her article “Concerning περὶ δέ in 1 Corinthians,” 229-56.

3. Hurd, Origin of 1 Corinthians, esp. 61-71.

-483-

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