NT Sunday School Lesson 34: 1 Corinthians 11-16

MsEvery so often I insert this reminder: These are study notes, not notes for a lesson. Of course, studying the chapter can help one prepare for the lesson, and the same questions used for study can be used to teach a lesson. But the primary purpose of these notes is to help people think about and prepare to talk about the Sunday School lesson.

Recall that in this part of his letter Paul is responding to questions that the Corinthians have asked him by letter. (See the questions for lesson 33.) Chapters 7-15 comprise his response to their questions, and one problem we have interpreting his response is knowing when he is quoting their letter and when he is speaking as himself. For example, in chapter 10, verse 23 (and also in 6:12) Paul says “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are expedient.” Many scholars have argued that when he says “all things are lawful for me,” he is not saying something that he believes. Instead, he is quoting from things that some in Corinth have said and to which he must respond. Some at Corinth seem to have reasoned, “I am made free from the law by Christ’s sacrifice, so I can do anything I want.” In that case, the second part of the verse, “not all things are expedient (or ‘profitable,’ something we should do),” is Paul’s response to their misunderstanding. (Notice how the JST recognizes the problem and makes sense of the passage.)

The Corinthians seem to have asked four major questions: (1) given their expectation that the Second Coming was imminent, what was Paul’s advice about marriage (dealt with in chapter 7); (2) could a member of the Church eat meat that had previously been offered to idols (chapters 8-10 and 11:1); (3) how should they conduct their worship services (several questions: 11:2-14:40); and (4) how were Christians to understand the doctrine of resurrection (chapter 15)?

These study questions will focus on chapters 11 and 13.

Chapter 11

Verse 2: As the footnote in the LDS Bible indicates, the word translated “ordinances” in this verse could also have been translated “traditions.” How might the alternate translation help explain some of the oddities that follow in chapter 11? (Notice that Paul uses a related term, “custom,” at the end of the discussion of women wearing veils, 11:16.)

Verses 17-19: Some early Christians celebrated the ordinance of the Sacrament by having a meal together. Evidently this was the practice in Corinth. When Paul speaks of them “coming together” he is speaking of them coming together to share that meal. What is his complaint in verse 17?

The words translated “divisions” (verse 18) and “heresies” (verse 19) are synonyms, and “heresies” is not a good translation. “Factions” would be better. How is their problem with the Sacrament related to the problem that Paul addressed in the beginning of the letter?

In verse 19, Paul seems to think that there is at least one good thing that comes from these factions. What is it?

Verses 20-22: They are coming together and they are eating, but why does Paul say they are neverthless not partaking of the Lord’s Supper (the Sacrament)?

Verses 23-25: Why does Paul feel that he needs to tell them how the ordinance of the Sacrament began? What does he mean when he says “I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you” (verse 23)?

Verse 26: What does it mean to “shew the Lord’s death”? Is that related to the fact that Paul preaches “the cross” (1 Corinthians 1:18)? Why does Paul add “till he come”? Why would the Sacrament no longer be needed after Christ returns?

Verse 27: The Greek word translated “unworthily” is the negative form of a word meaning “worthy,” just as is our English word. The Greek word translated “worthy,” originally meant “weighty” or “valuable,” which suggests that to be unworthy is not to be weighty or not to be concerned with weighty things. Given that, how might we understand what it means to take the Sacrament unworthily? How do we take it worthily? If we take it unworthily, why are we “guilty of the body and blood of the Lord”?

Verses 33-34: Is Paul merely correcting the way that the Corinthian saints had practiced the Sacramental meal or is he abolishing the practice?

Chapter 13

This is perhaps the most famous chapter in the New Testament. There are good reasons for that, but one consequence is that we often read it as if on automatic pilot, understanding it through the things we’ve heard said about it rather than directly from itself. So, to understand the chapter itself better think about its context. Ask yourself why Paul writes this in response to their question about gifts of the Spirit. In other words, how is chapter 13 related to chapter 12, particularly to 12:31: “But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way”? And how is what he teaches in chapter 13 related to what he says at the beginning of chapter 14: “Follow after [i.e., seek] charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy”? (Don’t forget what Paul said about prophecy in 13:2 and 8.) Another way to ask the same question: why does Paul interrupt his discussion of spiritual gifts (chapters 12 and 14) with this discourse on Christian love?

Verses 1-3: Why are each of the actions named here nothing without charity? How is charity different from giving to the poor (verse 3)?

Notice that “though I give my body to be burned” is almost certainly not a correct translation of what Paul said. But we aren’t sure what the correct translation ought to be. Most have said that the best alternative is “Though I give up my body so that I can boast.” However, that doesn’t solve the problem of what Paul means by “give up my body.” Some suggestions are: “I die for the sake of others” and “I become a slave.” Whatever Paul had in mind, the overall meaning seems clear: he is talking about sacrificing himself. We could understand the meaning to be: “Though I give everything I own to feed the poor and though I sacrifice myself completely for others, if I have not charity, those acts are useless.”

Verses 4-7: What does it mean to be long-suffering? We use the word “patient,” which means “passive” or “waiting.” What does “long-suffering” connote? (Remember that in King James’ English, “suffering” didn’t necessarily mean that one felt pain; it meant that one endured or allowed something.)

What is envy or jealousy and why is it inimical to love?

How do we vaunt ourselves (brag)? What is wrong with doing so? Why is it incompatible with love?

What is the problem with being puffed up? How does being puffed up differ from vaunting oneself?

Does Paul’s teaching about Christian wisdom help us see why bragging and pride are forbidden by love? (Compare 1 Corinthians 1:29-31.)

What is unseemly behavior (verse 5)? (See the footnote.) Why would unseemly behavior make one unloving?

What does it mean to seek one’s own, in other words, to see one’s own advantage?

We could replace “thinketh” in “thinketh no evil” with the word “calculates” and we would improve the translation. When would a person calculate evil?

What does it mean to rejoice in iniquity (verse 6)? When do we do that?

Here is another translation of verse 7: “It keeps all confidences, maintains all faithfulness, all hope, all steadfastness.” What do you think of saying “keeps all confidences” instead of “bears all things”? Which fits Paul’s teaching better? Another, fairly literal translation, is “covers all things.” What do you think of that translation? If you think that the King James translation makes more sense, can you explain what it means to bear all things?

Think about Paul’s teaching and try to make your own “translation” of verse 7.

Verses 8-11: Why is charity eternal when the gifts of the Spirit are not?

What is perfect or complete (verse 10—the two words mean the same thing in Paul)? What is incomplete?

Verse 12: What promise does Paul make in this verse? Could that promise also be a warning?

Verse 13: What word could you substitute for “abideth” and retain the meaning of this verse? Why is charity greater than either faith or hope? Can you explain how that teaching accords with Paul’s insistence that he preaches Christ crucified?

Please respond to this at Feast upon the Word.