Letters to the Corinthians: Follow the Leaders

Previously, Paul said hello and reminded the Corinthians of the things they get right that he’s thankful for. Now it’s time to deal with where they went wrong, starting in 1 Corinthians 1:10-17 …

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

Some Bibles will say ‘brethren’ (KJV) or ‘brothers’ (ESV) which to our modern ears have an entirely masculine association – this needs to be said that the word in the Greek adelphoi is inclusive of men and women and it’s used throughout this book. So Paul’s appeal isn’t just to the men of the church, but the women also. He’s not making two different appeals to two different groups of people – but one appeal to the whole group and everyone in it. Paul is hoping that the men and the women will come to an agreement. Do you understand how unheard of that is? Back in the day, whatever the men decided, the women were supposed to go along with. When somebody got converted, the whole household got converted. When somebody got baptized, the whole household got baptized. Paul didn’t feel the need to speak against the Corinthian woman having different opinions than the men – he just asked that all the Corinthians; men and women to be on the same page.

There’s not another reference to Chloe in scripture – but there’s no shortage of speculation as to who she is. After all, what kind of woman in 1st Century Greece has her own household? Fortunately there is mention of one of those in Scripture – Lydia in Acts 16:11-15, 40. Lydia is a dealer of purple cloth, she invites the apostles to her home, and hosts the church there. No mention is made of either Chloe’s or Lydia’s husband (they could be widows), but the independence of both women is startling. There is a possibility that Chloe is an Ephesian, whose people had business in Corinth and saw the sad state of affairs and reported it to Paul upon their return. And it’s possible that Chloe is a Corinthian whose people wrote to Paul to see if some recent teachings line up with what he teaches. We can’t really be sure which one (if either) is the case. Now there are two routes one could take to get to Corinth from Ephesus. The land route is exactly what sounds like – following the coast north from Ephesus, going through Smyrna, Pergamum, Troas, and lots of other less famous places, east through Thrace, Phillipi, and lots of other less famous places, until you reach Thessalonica, then it’s south from there through Delphi, Athens, and finally Corinth – walking all the way around the Aegean Sea. This was a long journey, one that left plenty of time for rest and recovery along the way – a few weeks in this city, a month and a half in that one – the point was never to speedily go from point A to point B. The sea route is basically a straight journey through the Aegean Sea to the east. It would have been far shorter – just a matter of days really. Either journey suggests that like Lydia, Chloe is wealthy, powerful and well-respected.

Paul is, of course, no mystery. As the recently-converted Saul, he baffled and astonished the people in Damascus by his fearless preaching of the Gospel. When he wasn’t speaking boldly, he was caught up in debates. By the time he reaches Corinth in Acts 18:1-17, he has sworn off preaching to the Jews and decided to dedicate himself to preaching entirely to the Gentiles – the Greeks, the Romans, anyone and everyone who will listen. He remained in the city for a year and a half – so it’s no wonder that he attracted a following. It’s also worth nothing that he had taken a vow and had his hair cut – so it seems that he didn’t give up Jewish tradition entirely when he converted to Christianity.

Apollos is mentioned several times in Acts 18:18-19:1 – he’s the guy to whom Priscilla and Aquila explained the way of God more accurately (in Ephesus). He went to Achaia (which is directly West of Corinth on the north side of the same peninsula) to publicly debate the Jewish opponents by proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah. After that, he was reported to have been in Corinth. From this story we can deduce that he was a learned man, thoroughly educated and and a bold, fervent speaker; exactly the sort of person who today might draw his own following because of his passion for Jesus. He’s also mentioned in Titus 3:13, but he has several more mentions yet to come in 1st Corinthians.

We know that Cephas is a Greek variation of Peter. The Bible doesn’t tell us that he directly visited or stayed in Corinth as Paul and Apollos had, but that doesn’t mean that he didn’t either. But Peter isn’t just anybody – he was with Christ as a disciple turned apostle – that guy upon whom the church would be built and most likely the apostle in charge. Were it not for Peter’s vision and acceptance of Cornelius, the door might not have been opened so readily to the gentiles. It’s natural that he would have his fans.

Christ is the guy for whom everything is named. Everybody is his follower, but so it would seem – some more than others. For us, we can simply read the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to see what Jesus’ teachings were. At this point in time, none of the gospels had been written down. It’s theorized that some of the gospels draw from another source, a Q source from which Matthew and Luke draw much of their similarities when they’re not copying off of Mark. Mark is the first gospel to be written and it doesn’t seem to use the Q source. So without the gospels – Jesus’ teachings are being taught, we’re just not really sure how. It could be that the Apostles tell stories about Jesus in the various areas they visit, they get written down and passed around. We know that Jesus’ public ministry ended in the mid 30s, this letter is written in the mid to late 60s, and the first gospel is written sometime in the 70s. Thirty years isn’t a lot of time, but the Church is growing rapidly. It must be a challenge to get Jesus’ teachings out there when people can write to Paul or Peter for clarification or just wait for Apollos to show up in person and teach them.

Four factions each behind one of four different teachers. Each faction believing that their teacher is more right than the other three. The divisions are only defined by the teacher – there’s so much we don’t know about the nature of the arguments. All we know is that lines have been drawn and the division is really clear. What form that takes – is up to our imaginations. But let’s read on – Paul has more to say:

Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

Crispus is, by the way, the synagogue leader mentioned in Acts 18:8. I’m uncertain if Crispus is Sosthenes by another name, or if they’re two different believers, the grammar and details are unclear. Gaius was a really common name, so there are more than one of them in Scripture the likely candidate is mentioned in Romans 16:23 as Paul’s host and is the one whom Paul baptized. Stephanas is mentioned twice more in chapter 16 as the first converts in the region. The focus of this reminds them that the main thing is the cross of Christ. At this point, Paul has mentioned Jesus fourteen times. For Paul, nothing is more important than Jesus Christ.

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