Paul and the Corinthians

Evangelical Christians love to quote from Paul’s epistles. And why not, there is his solid doctrine where he uses his legal training to codify Jesus message. There is sensible and wise advice about the work of the Holy Spirit. Vital teaching, as there is little elsewhere in Bible about these things. There is also some lifestyle advice which tends to be treated with the same direct interpretation. But I would say that solid Christian doctrine and teaching about the Holy Spirit does not change. Lifestyle teaching is individually and culturally specific. In Corinthians 1 6:9-10 Paul describes various behaviours that exclude Christians from inheriting the kingdom of God. Now the huge port city of Corinth was, according to archaeology, decadent in the extreme. Paul’s desire was to keep his church pure from the evil licentiousness around them. But to me it is an instruction to get in line with a threat. I don’t believe the threat simply because Jesus message is essentially one of forgiveness for all that accept him. Perhaps the focus by the Evangelical church is too strong, as this verse is a specific instruction, at a specific time to a specific group of people. Not only that, but they were effectively a small isolated missionary church in hostile moral territory trying to demonstrate a different way. They had to be different both spiritually and in their actions, as they were basically missionaries.

The trouble I have is that these verses become extrapolated to cover any activity referred to, but not in the specific cultural details. I have mentioned in a previous pamphlet about homosexuality, and the Corinthian behaviour was extreme, abusive ad unacceptable and should not be used to create a blanket ban on the behaviour. Getting drunk on wine in Corinth involved drinking bowls full of wine as quick you were man enough, throwing up and doing it again. The wine was certainly not the same as we have now. In a different culture, Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding. This was not so that the good people of Cana could have a small glass for politeness sake, this was a party. Also everybody was married in Cana, and would have no need of any love substitutes like the lonely, isolated people of today.

I definitely do not condone the actions of the Corinthians. Some of the things listed would certainly be verboten for me. But the Greek behaviour was extreme and it was the spirit in which these actions were carried out that troubles me.

But to take one verse out of context and apply it to all cultures for all time is wrong. To challenge this interpretation threatens people’s belief structure which can be difficult. But to narrow the lifestyle options for the whole world, to a one verse instruction to a missionary church in a single hostile city 2000 years ago without any latitude is mean. Everybody else is denied the love, faith, wisdom, forgiveness and truth they may have otherwise found within a church.

Lifestyle is a personal issue that people have to decide themselves. Obviously the affects people’s relationships. But it is nobody else’s business.

DO not constrict biblical passages to the point where only you and your friends can use them. Let people be free to make their own interpretation. But help them learn how to use the Bible, just as the Alpha course aims to help people to find out for themselves.

Conway-Laird (2016)      

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