Sunday, September 13, 2009

1Corinthians 9:1-3

This passage opens with a jarring change in both form and substance. In chapter 8, Paul had been admonishing the "strong" Christians not to use their Christian liberty, by eating meat sacrificed to an idol, in a pagan temple, in front of their "weaker brother." Apparently this practice was causing a significant problem in Corinth and led to spiritual harm to the weak.

Now in chapter 9, Paul begins by saying, "Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus Christ?...." That is the jarring change in both form and substance. He moves from admonition to rhetorical questions and to a change in topic. All in all, there are 16 rhetorical questions in 27 verses and a very sustained focus upon Paul and his apostleship. This abrupt change has led interpreters to suggest a range of solutions. Some have argued that Paul is simply digressing from his point in chapter 8 as Paul sometimes does, and will swing back to his thought in chapter 10. Others argue that chapter 9 has been clumsily inserted into 1Corinthians by an early editor. However, others argue that Paul has not left topic at all, rather he is turning the discussion to his own example as an apostle, which has a principial bearing upon the issue of how strong Christians are to use their liberty around weak Christians.

I am persuaded that the latter interpretation is correct. The very first word in chapter 9, "free," seems to link up conceptually to 8:13 where Paul has in view the proper use of Christian liberty. So what Paul does here in vv1-3 is turn the topic to his apostleship, then, particularly to a narrow aspect of his apostleship, the fact that he is entitled to financial compensation for fulfilling his duties as an apostle, vv4-14. Subsequently, in the following sections, in vv15-18 he will explain why he denies himself a paycheck, in vv19-23 Paul will take up his own use of liberty as he fulfills his calling as an evangelist, and finally, in vv24-27 he appeals to his own example of self-discipline for these Corinthians to emulate.

Now, having given an overview and breakdown of the chapter, let's come back to these first 3 verses. In order for Paul's argument to have any force and relevance, he must defend his apostleship. Everything hinges upon that. If he really isn't an apostle, then he cannot credibly make the argument that he is owed compensation for ministerial labor, and that in turn means his denial of certain privileges to himself, cannot function as an example for how to deny privileges to self for the sake of other Christians. So he must defend his claim to apostleship, and he does that with two primary forms of evidence: one, he has seen the resurrected Jesus, and two, the very existence of the Corinthian church, as founded by the preaching of Paul, is divinely furnished proof of his apostleship.

The last thing I want to say about this passage is that Paul verbally links proof of his first claim to apostleship, that he has seen Jesus, to his historical encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. In that encounter, Paul uses the words, "who are you JESUS" in response to Christ's questions. This verbal linkage establishes Paul's claim that he has seen the resurrected Jesus with his physical eyes. Why belabor this point? Well, because it is crucial to validate his apostleship. Acts 1:21-26 lists the qualifications of an apostle and having seen the resurrected Christ is a key requirement. So, Paul's argument that he has "seen Jesus" makes his claim to apostleship credible.

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