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Journal gleans insight from Corinthian church

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–The first-century Corinthian church may be the most well-known church of all time — but for all the wrong reasons.

When the apostle Paul wrote to that group of believers some 2,000 years ago, he was forced to address a host of issues — divisions among believers, sexual immorality and worldliness, just to name a few.

While it’s easy to frown on the Corinthians’ actions, much can be learned by studying Paul’s admonitions to the church at Corinth, writers in the latest issue of the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology contend.

First Corinthians is the focus of the fall edition of the SBJT, a publication of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. It is intended to be used as a supplement to LifeWay Christian Resources’ January Bible Study, also on 1 Corinthians.

“Many pastors only think they have a difficult church until they read 1 Corinthians,” Southern Seminary professor William Cook writes. “… The subjects Paul confronts are as relevant to the body of Christ today as when Paul wrote the letter. Although no church I know of is dealing with all of these problems simultaneously, every church faces similar difficulties.

“As the book is studied one observes how Paul — the consummate pastor and theologian — handles delicate issues with a spiritually immature people.”

Cook, associate professor of New Testament interpretation, is one of five seminary faculty members to contribute to the fall edition. The others are Thomas Schreiner, professor of New Testament; John Polhill, James Buchanan Harrison professor of New Testament interpretation; Robert Plummer, assistant professor of New Testament interpretation; and Stephen Wellum, associate professor of Christian theology. Benjamin Merkle, who received his Ph.D. at Southern Seminary and is currently teaching in Southeast Asia, also contributes.

The journal includes more than 10 book reviews as well as a forum on the Lord’s Supper by theologians D.A. Carson, Ben Mitchell, Timothy George, Mark Dever and Scott Hafemann.

Cook tackles a host of issues addressed by Paul, including church discipline, lawsuits, divorce and sexual immorality. Paul’s warnings against sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6) are certainly relevant in today’s culture, Cook asserts.

“Paul’s words need to be heard afresh in a culture that has legitimized sexual promiscuity,” he writes. “In contrast to the contemporary mantra, ‘If it feels good, do it,’ comes the wise words of the Apostle Paul, ‘Flee sexual immorality!'”

Cook points out that Jesus’ advice on the same subject in Matthew 5:29 is even more descriptive: “If your right eye causes you to stumble, tear it out and throw it from you….”

“As addiction to Internet pornography proliferates and premarital, extramarital and perverted sex become increasingly the norm, the obvious application is for the believer to do whatever it takes to remain pure in mind and body,” Cook writes. “The greatest motivation to this purity is not first and foremost one’s own well being, but to glorify the God who bought us.”

Plummer addresses Paul’s warning to the Corinthians against eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols (1 Corinthians 8). Paul was concerned that doing so would cause others to fall into sin.

“Modern Christians need to demonstrate a willingness to give up permitted things when other believers’ spiritual health is at stake,” he writes. “Spiritual growth should always take priority over our personal comfort. Paul’s letter forces us to ask ourselves, ‘Are we as zealous as Paul to keep other Christians from sin? Are we willing to give up our freedom or comfort for another’s spiritual growth?'”

Polhill writes an overview of the entire Corinthian letter, showing the many divisions that engulfed the church. One of those divisions involved the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11) in which some church members were struck dead because of their abuse.

“This is hard for us to comprehend today, but it reminds us of the very sacred character of the Lord’s Supper and of the church which celebrates it,” Polhill writes. “Neither is to be treated lightly.”

Merkle discusses the implications for missions in 1 Corinthians and points to Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 1:18: “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

The cross, he argues, was — and still is — a contradiction to non-believers. The reason? The Messiah was equated with power and glory, while crucifixions were likened to weakness and shame.

“The Gospel has not truly been shared until the cross of Christ has been explained,” Merkle writes. “… We might reason that they will not understand the concept of a crucified Messiah or, even if they understand the message, it will not be acceptable in their culture. But to eliminate the scandal, the offense, is to eliminate the heart of the Gospel message.

“Yes, it is foolishness, but it is God’s foolishness and as such is not to be altered. We must remember that God’s foolishness is wiser than our greatest insights.”

Wellum addresses 1 Corinthians 15 and the necessity of the bodily resurrection of both Christ and his believers.

“[I]f God is truly to redeem his people and this world; if God’s plan of salvation is truly to be complete, then not only must Christ be raised as a demonstration that sin has been dealt with in his cross and death has been defeated, but we too must be raised with him,” Wellum writes. “For without Christ’s resurrection; without our resurrection in him, there is no biblical salvation in the complete sense of the word.”
The SBJT can be ordered by calling 1-800-626-5525, ext. 4413. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: SBJT: 1 CORINTHIANS.

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  • Michael Foust