1st Corinthians – Origins of Corinthian Christianity

Acts 18 describes how Christianity came to Corinth. After a difficult
sojourn in Athens, Paul arrived in Corinth alone. Soon he met a Jew
named Aquilla and his wife Priscilla, with whom he shared the same
trade, and began persuading Jews and Greeks in the synagogues to
follow Christ. The Scriptures account that the Jews quickly "opposed and reviled” both Paul and his ministry (v 5-6). In response, he "shook out his garments and said to them, ‘Your blood be upon your heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles’"
(v 6).

After
departing from the synagogue, he began a highly contentious form of
evangelization to the Gentiles and God-fearers, establishing his base
in the house "next door" to the synagogue (v 7). God
protected Paul’s oft-threatened ministry in Corinth, saying to him in
a night vision, "Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be
silent; for I am with you, and no man shall attack you to harm you;
for I have many people in this city" (v 9-11). After Gallio
became proconsul of Achaia (roughly modern Greece), the Jews unite to
accuse Paul of spreading an illicit religion (cf v 12-13). Gallio
refuses to be the judge of such debate, forcibly ejecting the Jews
from his court (cf v 14-15). Tension between Jews and Gentiles is
excruciatingly high in Corinth, as expressed by the small riot that
ensues (cf v 16-17).

Paul
later wrote an epistle to “the church of God which is at Corinth,"
(1 Cor 1:1-2). Here he stresses the presence of a universal (i.e.,
catholic) Church with local manifestations. In the Greek, "the
church of God which is at Corinth" does not refer to a local
assembly, but rather to a universal church which is represented in
Corinth. It is important to note that Christians derive the term for
church, ecclesia, from the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament), where
the entire Hebrew people is called the ecclesia of Israel, an
assembly of millions. Ecclesia never refers to just a local community
in the Septuagint.

Early
in the epistle, Paul links Jesus Christ to the grace which the Corinthians have received
(cf v 4). In spite of having received the sacraments of Baptism,
Confirmation and other spiritual gifts, however, Paul indicts them
for misusing these gifts to further theological causes in a
mean-spirited manner (cf v 5). The task of a Christian is to grow in
holiness, to love one another and to evangelize, never to be
contentious or self-seeking.

Music: Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major, Op. 15, performed by the Skidmore College Orchestra. www.musopen.com

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1st Corinthians – Introduction

An industrial hub and commercial center on an Isthmus, the city of Corinth contained many merchants and working-class types; many Roman army veterans retired to Corinth after their tour of duty. A conglomeration of Latins, Greeks, Syrians and Jews, it was the capital of the entire Roman province of the Achaia, roughly the boundary of the modern Greek state. Archaeological excavations have revealed entire streets of bars and brothels in the city. Corinth was notorious for its perverse sexual immorality.

Among all Churches recorded in the New Testament, the church at Corinth most parallels the state of the modern Church in America: it contained a diverse group of individuals living in tumult: Jewish and Gentile converts with legalistic leanings, a more liberal contingent and charismatic groups on both ends of the spectrum. Among the believers arose sex scandals, debates over the place of women in worship and intense discussions regarding loyalty to the Apostolic tradition. So embittered were the factions that existed in the Church towards another group that when a representative of one group would start to address the congregation, a member of another party would begin speaking in tongues to drown them out.

While Paul was staying in Ephesus, several prominent men of the Corinthian community sought out Paul’s response on several matters. Obliging their request, Paul writes the First Epistle to the Corinthians in late spring of A.D. 55. A young Timothy most likely delivered Paul’s letter to this first Century church in A.D. 55-57. Though they had received catechetical instruction from Paul himself over the course of 18 months, the Corinthians received neither Timothy nor the Epistle with high regard. Their tepid response raises questions as to how Christian the Corinthians actually were, and their turmoil speaks to the fact that they had not fully reformed their bawdy ways. Many members of the Corinthian church simply did not respect Paul as one who carried Apostolic authority.

Music: Carl Maria von Weber’s Der Freischutz, J. 277 performed by the Skidmore College Orchestra. www.musopen.com

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Galatians – Conclusion

Paul uses stark language in Galatians 6 to indict both legalists and antinomians: "Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap" (v 7). While all in the Galatian assembly have some concern for honoring God, this verse makes a distinctions between those who "go through the motions," those who practice self-justification, and those true Christians who offer themselves entirely to God and live justly.

Speaking to Christians with a weakening resolve, Paul says "Let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart" (v 9). He continues, "So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith" (v 10).

Verses 11-18 seek to reiterate and summarize the entire epistle, which Paul writes with large letters in his own hand for emphasis (v 11). He contrasts the spirit (the true Gospel) with the flesh (Gentile circumcision and a doctrine of self-justification). He reveals those worldly men who want to "make a good showing in the flesh…only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ" (v 12). Consistently referring to the saving power of the cross, he says "But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (v 14). Because Paul knows the Christians are a new race within humanity, he establishes that "neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision" (v 15).

Although some may interpret verse 17 to read that Paul bore the stigmata, the words "I bear on my body the marks of Jesus," most likely refer to the wounds and scars that he bore from beatings and persecution in order that he might "fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ" (Col 1:24).

One must not conclude a study in Galatians without establishing that even the mind can be "of the flesh." In Col 2:18, Paul says "let no one disqualify you…puffed up without reason by his sensuous [fleshly] mind." A mind of the flesh has, among other things, a tendency to "rack up points" for itself after executing good deeds. He rails against those who place the things of this passing world – especially a pride-filled asceticism – ahead of Jesus Christ (cf. 20 ff).

Additionally, one must note that the Catholic interpretation of Romans and Galatians has never been that one can earn his salvation through good works. The Council of Trent reaffirmed the existing truth that no Catholic can earn his salvation, for it is a free gift of God. Still, ill-taught, immature and sinful Catholics may sometimes fall into the mindset that they must earn their salvation. One hopes that by living the fullness of truth in love, Catholics will debunk the myths that many non-Catholics believe about the Church’s Magisterium. Further, living the fullness of the Catholic faith allows one to bear the fruits of a life in the Spirit, maintain a loving responsibility for his brothers, and continuously grow nearer to God.

Christians do well to model Paul’s passion and willingness to challenge that which is manifestly wrong and leads to the spiritual death of the brethren.

Music: Beethoven’s Sonata No. 4 in E Flat Major, Op. 7 performed by Paul Pitman. www.musopen.com

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Galatians – Responsibility and Liberty

In Galatians 5:13, Paul begins a pivotal discourse on the life in the Spirit. He writes, "for you were called to freedom; brethren, only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for flesh." His discourse aptly begins with exhortations to live in the maturity that is freedom and love; he then makes a statement that seems peculiar at first glance: "But if you bite and devour one another take heed that you are not consumed by one another" (v 14). To better understand this passage, one can recall that churches in Paul’s age were frequently beset by fierce disputes between opposing ecclesial factions. As any good shepherd, he does not wish the victors to take vengeance on those who lose theological disputes. To do this, he highlights the sins of pride, "enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy," within his litany of sins of the flesh (v 20, 21). Finally, he presents the Fruits of the Spirit as the expression of a harmonious and fruitful community life and further encourages the strife-filled Galatians to "walk by the Spirit" and have "no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another" (v 25-26).

In light of the vicious disputes in Galatia, Paul begins Chapter 6 with an underlying confidence in the ability of the Church to heal and return to harmony. He begins by instructing those who consider themselves "spiritual" Christians to restore fallen brothers and sisters, and to fulfill this responsibility with a "spirit of gentleness" that is fair and never that of a pushover (v 1). He demands that a man watch out for his brothers but warns against pride: "Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself" (v 2-3). In the Galaitian Church, the burden "spiritual" Christians must bear is likely the shame and guilt they feel towards those who followed the Judaizers as well as the humility to allow them to return to the fold after reform.

The verse "Let him who is taught the word share all good things with him who teaches" speaks to the just wages due to all clerics, presupposing that they are teaching well (v 6). Given the abysmal state of our catechesis, Catholics have a long way to go to attain the standards of the Galatian church, let alone the expectations of a true disciple of Jesus Christ.

Music: Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture performed by the Skidmore College Orchestra. www.musopen.com

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Galatians – Freedom and Love

Paul knows that the free gift of Christ is a stumbling block for those who desire a religion of self-justification. He uses excruciatingly strong language against the advocates of such legalism when he says, "I wish those who unsettle you would mutilate themselves!" (Gal 5:12b)

Paul masterfully indicts the Judaizers as law-breakers who are preoccupied with the flesh. His conception of "flesh" speaks not only to one’s sensual desires, but of anything which animates one apart from Christ, anything within a man that fights against the Spirit (cf v 17). True Christian life is a fight to the death against every desire of his flesh; any provision for the flesh is a surrender to the devil and puts one’s soul in grave peril. The Judaizers’ fleshly focus blinds them and their disciples from the freedom of the Christian life that is being "servants of one another" through love (v 13). Citing Leviticus 19, Paul affirms "For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’" (v 14). Moreover, he knows "if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law" (Gal 5:18).

Paul then lists 15 sins, attempting to compile a comprehensive list of the provisions of the flesh, "fornication, impurity, licentiousness [bawdiness], idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit [ecclesial factionalism], envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God" (v 20-21).

He contrasts these sins with those qualities which the Spirit gives to all disciples of Christ "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law" (v 23). Paul’s focus on the Spirit seeks to clearly contrast it with the system of the law as an end in itself. One must not forget that the righteous man will live by faith and that God has no pleasure in him who begins in the Spirit but turns to his own resources in self-justification (cf Heb 10:37-38).

The powerful statement "And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires" serves as both a summary of the Christian life and a warning for Christians to ever remain in Christ (Gal 5:24). A proper focus on Christ crucified does not downplay of the Resurrection; rather, Christ crucified is the proper emblem of our discipleship.

Faith is trust in God and a response to the his grace in Spirit, and Paul asserts " If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another" (v 26-27).

In light of the promise of Christ and the understanding of the Early Church, Catholics are not bread-worshipers, but disciples of our Lord in the Eucharist. Yet, "going through the motions" of the Mass condemns one just as much as does legalism. If Christians have been made for a relationship with the living God, the Mass is the supreme moment of one’s life, the summit of worship and the source of an evident love, joy and peace. Were a Christian to not express love, joy or peace, it is a sign that he never had the life of Christ or that the tares of the word have choked him. Daily prayer and recollection are necessary for all disciples. Periodically, times of deeper prayer are required, and a period of detoxification from the world and one’s own thoughts is often a prerequisite for entering into true prayer.

Music: Franz Schubert’s Sonata in B Flat, D. 960 performed by David H. Porter. www.musopen.com

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Galatians – Paul’s Arguments

Paul puts forth several lines of argumentation in Galatians 1-4, including:

1) The Messiah is greater than Israel and is a hope for the whole world;

2) More than a fulfillment of the law, Christ is God’s perfect gift for those who, in their mortal weakness, cannot hope to fulfill all the demands of God by themselves;

3) Paul’s ministry to the Galatians exhibited both bona fide miracles and the introduction of the Spirit in these Gentiles’ hearts;

4) The law served Israel as a tutor who controls an unruly child, but Christians are called to be adults, not mere children; and

5) It is foolish to turn from the Spirit’s promptings and rely on self-justification and slavish bondage.

In Chapter 4 he discusses the theology of the law and the promises of God. He teaches that the promise precedes the law, and further states that God intended for the law to show His people they had the disease of sin, that they might yearn for the Messiah’s redemption. Using the two sons of Abraham in an allegory, Paul illustrates how the son of a slave, conceived through man’s fleshly design, stands in contrast to the son of a free woman, born through supernatural grace (cf. v 21-31). His gospel offers freedom in Christ; this freedom is born of maturity and establishes a right relationship with God. If Christ has set us free from the shackles of self-justification under the law, Christians must "stand fast, therefore, and … not submit again to a yoke of slavery" (5:1).

Paul then makes a strong and concise rabbinical argument: "If you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who receives circumcision that he is bound to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace" (v 2-3). In this attempt to convict the Galatians, Paul explains that Christians are called to a life of faith and love in the Spirit that comes from God, hoping "through the Spirit, by faith," for the righteousness that will be revealed at Chrit’s second coming (cf. v 4). He further states, "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love" (v 6).

By asking "who hindered you from obeying the truth?" Paul contrasts obedience to God with an obedience merely to the law (v 7). Notably, the Greek word for disobedience is the same word for disbelief. A Christian notion of obedience would be to respond to God with trust and belief, relating to Him as He is. One expresses his obedience by reciting the Creed at Mass, which begins in the Latin with the word credo: I believe. This deeply personal statement is akin to a marriage vow. Like the Shema Israel, however, our life in God is both deeply personal and deeply communal, demanding a loving response: "Hear O Israel: the LORD our God is one LORD; and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might." (Deut 6:4-5).

Music: Beethoven’s Sonata No. 8 in C Minor "Pathetique", Op. 13 performed by Daniel Veesey. www.musopen.com

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Galatians – Bondage and Freedom

Paul expounds on the adoption of Christians as God’s sons in the beginning of the fourth chapter of Galatians. He focuses on the unique role of the Spirit in this adoption: it is through the Spirit that the Father knows his sons; through the same Spirit, God’s sons come to know the Eternal Son and can enter into the divine life of the Holy Trinity. In his other epistles, Paul shows how the presence of the Spirit in one’s heart is both an assurance and an affirmation of one’s sonship (cf Rom 8:16).

In verse 8, Paul digresses from his theological discourse, recounting the bond he had with the Galatian church by stating "Formerly, when you did not know God, you were in bondage to beings that by nature are no gods; but now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe [Jewish] days, and months, and seasons, and years! I am afraid I have [strenuously] labored over you in vain" (v 8-9). One can see how the influence of the Judaizers has led the Galatian Christians to block out God with their array of compulsive routines and superstitious rituals.

Paul then reminds the Galatians how he poured himself out for them, challenging them to be as mature in Christ as he is (v 12). Although exegetes are uncertain of what is was that lead him to say, "you know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first," it is clear that the Galatians cared for him while he taught as one in the person of Christ (v 13-14). He confronts the church by asking, "what has become of the satisfaction you felt? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me," and hints at the probable ocular nature of his ailment (v 15-16). He rebukes the Judaizers for making a fuss over the Galatians with neither good reason nor noble intent (v 18). Paul also shows the outstanding pastoral care he has for his "little [Galatian] children," those for whom he toiled in constant prayer.

Paul closes the fourth chapter with an extended metaphor. He establishes his allegory by stating "Abraham had two sons, one by a slave and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, the son of the free woman through promise" (v 22). He then juxtaposes the slave-mother Hagar, the law of Mount Sinai and the present Jerusalem with the free Jerusalem who is the Christian’s true mother. The Galatians are called to be "children of the promise" like Isaac, but foolishly allow the Judaizers, who live according to the flesh, to persecute their life with the Spirit (cf v 28-29). Paul ends by citing Genesis, instructing them to cast off the shackles of the Judaizers and return to their freedom, "Cast out the slave and her son; for the son of the slave shall not inherit with the son of the free woman" (21:10-12).

Music: Beethoven’s Sonata No. 9 in E Major, Op. 14 No. 1 performed by Paul Pitmam. www.musopen.com

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Galatians – The Law’s Preparation For Sonship

St. Irenaeus Ministries will be featured on EWTN’s "Life on the Rock" Thursday, September 4th at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. Find out more on siministries.org.

God’s law is always good when properly interpreted and executed (cf. Ps 119). When used incorrectly, specifically when manipulated for self-justification, it is disastrous. The law can illuminate one’s sinful ways and highlight God’s justice, but it cannot make one just.

Just as parents establish restraints and regulations on their young children, God used the law to instruct the fledgling Jewish people. Far more than a set of arbitrary burdens, our Heavenly Father intended his children’s compliance with the law to be an expression of their love for Him. God also willed that it would be an aid to his people in the acquisition of the freedom, responsibility and love necessary to accept the Messiah. Many Jews, however, viewed the law as an end in itself; some even worshiped it instead of God.

Paul instructs, "Now before faith [Jesus Christ] came, we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until faith could be revealed. So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ … and if you are Christ’s then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise" (Gal 3:23-26, 28). Even so, the heir to God’s promise remains a minor, living under the care of the stewards of his household, "until the date set by the father" (4:2).

"But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons" (4:4-6). After adopting fleshly creatures as His sons, God conceives them anew as heavenly creatures by sending "the Spirit of his Son" into their hearts; through God they are no longer slaves but sons, and if sons, then also heirs (cf. 4:6-7). Paul finally appeals to the Galatians not to merely live within a religious system but to use religion to more completely embrace the living Christ, deepening an intimate relationship with the Triune God.

Music: Schumann’s Scenes from Childhood, Op. 15 performed by Donald Betts. www.musopen.com

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Galatians – Covenantial Theology and Faith

Paul continues to explore the correct relationship between the Mosaic law and Gentile Christians in Galatians 3:10. By stating that "in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham [came] upon the Gentiles," he overturns the argument of the Judaizers (cf. 3:14). One must not let the Mosaic Law replace God’s covenant with Abraham, for "Anything that comes afterward does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void" (3:17). With this logic Paul advocates Covenantial Theology: God makes multiple covenants with His people over time to unfold His plan in stages, building block upon block; later covenants do not nullify prior covenants. Biblical Christians ought to contrast Paul’s orthodoxy with the heterodox Dispensational Theology that arose in 19th Century Protestant circles and appears in the Scofield Reference Bible (1st ed. 1909).

He continues, "Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the offspring should come to whom the promise was made" (3:19). The law can do the work of God by stirring up those who have faith to realize that they must rely on the promise of God. One should follow God’s laws without acquiring a delusional attitude of self-righteousness.

The law does not work against God’s promises but serves as a custodian for the people of God until they come of age (cf. 3:24-29). God designed His people to mature and become "sons of God, through faith" in Christ Jesus (3:26). Christians who follow God’s will from the heart are likely to produce works of faith from the heart.

Baptism fundamentally changes one’s soul so that "there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave, nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus," though one’s body and state in life are likely to remain the same (3:28). Further nourished by the gift of the Eucharist, God prepares his people to go into all the world and spread the gospel.

Music: Bach’s Aria Variata, BVW. 989 performed by Brendan Kinsella. www.musopen.com

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Galatians – Faith and Works

The issue of Galatians has always been stark: either the Judaizers are correct and Paul is a gross heretic, or Paul’s gospel is from God and the Judaizing legalists are confusing the Galatian converts. Yet, Christians since the Protestant Reformation have used Paul’s argument in this epistle to understand to the relationship of faith and works. One would have to bend Paul’s logic and terminology to argue that living the essential gospel does not entail any form of religious action. Certainly he sees baptism, the laying on of hands, conduct-changing repentance, and other vital acts as key to living a Christian life.

Christians should rightly be weary of both legalistic additions to the gospel and an attitude of antinomianism, a philosophy of lawlessness. The correct understanding of the nature of saving faith and Christian liberty is at stake in Chapter 3. An upset Paul asks who has tricked the Galatians into questioning the clear gospel in which he instructed them. He also asks whether or not the supernatural life, Spirit and miracles he offered them are more convincing than the new philosophy of the Judaizers.

The phrase "the works of the law" does not mean obedience to the law (cf. 3:5). A negative term in this context, Paul instead rebukes a reliance on self-justification through good works to gain access to salvation and absolve sins. The true child of God admits his weaknesses and wholeheartedly trusts in Jesus Christ despite his faults rather than try to manipulate a legal system in order to gain eternal life by his own actions. More important than the acts themselves are one’s motives and intent.

Hebrews 12 shows examples of obedient acts of faith, for "by faith Abraham obeyed," persistently migrated West, and even tied his son Isaac on an altar for sacrifice. These wise actions exhibit a total reliance on God. The Book of Hebrews, John 8, Romans, Galatians, James and others show the necessity for the Christian not only to believe, but also to work in accord with God’s will through his actions. Paul always sought to bring about obedience to God through faith among the Gentiles. One finds the phrase "the obedience of faith" throughout the Epistle to the Romans, notably at the beginning and the end.

The relationship of faith and works bears significance to all Christians, but in a special way to Mass-attending Catholics. The difference between clocking in and out of Mass and offering one’s total self in faith and humility with the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and receiving His body and blood is the difference between an act of legalism and an act of faith.

Music: Beethoven’s Sonata No. 14 in C Sharp Minor performed by Paul Pitman. www.musopen.com

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