A huge challenge for us as Bible teachers is to figure out which instructions in the epistles are binding on believers today and which were unique for to the particular time, place, and audience to which they were originally written.
In this conversation Greg Lanier, associate professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, works through the first 10 chapters of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. These chapters address matters of wisdom, divisions, sexual immorality in the church, lawsuits among believers, marriage, idolatry, and eating food offered to idols. Lanier demonstrates how, on each issue, Paul presents theological grounds for his instruction and then applies it to the issue at hand. Lanier contends that while many of the other epistles focus on the basics of the Christian message, 1 Corinthians is an application of that truth.
Lanier’s new book, A Christian’s Pocket Guide to How We Got the Bible, releases this month in the UK and in February 2020 in the United States.
Listen to this episode of Help Me Teach the Bible.
Written resources on 1 Corinthians recommended by Greg Lanier:
- 1 Corinthians 1–9: Challenging Church by Mark Dever
- 1 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries) by Thomas R. Schreiner
- 1 Corinthians (Teach the Text Commentary Series) by Preben Vang
- Let’s Study 1 Corinthians by David Jackman
Audio resources on 1 Corinthians:
- Sermons on 1 Corinthians by Dick Lucas
- Sermons on 1 Corinthians by Alistair Begg
- Sermons on 1 Corinthians by Richard Pratt
Greg Lanier: The Old Testament and the New Testament aren’t exhaustive for every known possible situation. They don’t tell us what to do with the internet, right? And so, what Paul models for us is, okay with this new information, this new situation that hasn’t happened for us necessarily, how do we take the one gospel that’s unchanging, or how do we take the character of the truine God which is unchanging and apply it to this new situations? He models that for us, and I think if nothing else, that’s what you want to help them get out of 1 Corinthians is, how do I reason biblical?
Nancy Guthrie: Welcome to “Help Me Teach the Bible,” I’m Nancy Guthrie. “Help Me Teach the Bible” is a production of The Gospel Coalition sponsored by Crossway. Crossway is a not-for-profit publisher of the ESV Bible, Christian books, and tracts. Learn more at crossway.org. I am in Orlando, Florida at the offices of Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, and specifically in the office of Dr. Greg Lanier. Dr. Lanier, thank you for being willing to help us teach the Bible.
Lanier: Yeah, and thanks for being here.
Guthrie: So you teach here at RTS a number of courses related to New Testament exegesis and interpretation, Greek, preaching. And then, you’re also, do I understand correctly, a part-time pastor?
Lanier: Yes, I’m part-time associate pastor at River Oaks Church in Lake Mary.
Guthrie: Now, I was reading through some of the books you’ve published, and honestly, I’m not smart enough to be able to know how to pronounce…
Lanier: Fair point.
Guthrie: …some of the titles of some of your books. Now, this one which I have read, I can say its title, which is this short, simple, little book you did called “How We Got the Bible.”
Guthrie: Old and New Testament Canon and Text. A very helpful little book, especially if people are wondering, is the Bible reliable, how do we make sense of it? So that’s a very readable book to anyone in our audience.
Lanier: Yeah, and that’s, sort of, for the average, just congregation goer. It’s a complicated topic, but I was trying to make it intelligible to…
Guthrie: And you did.
Lanier: …my mom, you know?
Guthrie: Yeah, you did. I really like that little book. But then, like I read another one that’s in process, Corpus Christologica, texts in translation for the study of Jewish Messianism and early Christology.
Lanier: I see you got it. That’s good.
Guthrie: That sounds complicated.
Lanier: That one’s a labor of love, yeah.
Guthrie: Okay, why do you say so?
Lanier: As I was studying Christology over the past several years, you see a lot of apocryphal writings, Dead Sea Scrolls, pseudoepigrapha, like 1 Enoch, which by the way is cited in Jude.
Lanier: When people are talking about, “Okay, who is Jesus? Why did the early Christians come to these conclusions about whether he is the Son of Man or if he is a messiah figure, some sort? These Jewish texts often play a role in that because you’ll have messiahs mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls. You’ll have messiahs mentioned in those things. So I started just collecting them all in terms of, like, what I wanted to look up, and what this book is it puts the primary text, so whether that’s, Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, what have you, with a translation and a brief commentary so that you could trace themes. I want to look at every single passage where a messiah is mentioned before the time of Jesus. That’s actually a really hard thing to do, to track all that down. So it’s not really meant to be a layperson book, it’s meant to, sort of, be a starting point for study of Christology or the study of Jesus.
Guthrie: Well, it’s interesting to me that you are writing those kinds of academic books, in that, you didn’t necessarily intend to even be a seminary professor, you had a career in business.
Lanier: Yeah, when I asked my wife to marry me, that was a very different time of life. So, yeah, I worked in business for almost seven years, mostly in project management, consulting, finance, and then in the 2010, 2011 timeframe. Went to RTS, Charlotte, and then to England, and then here. So it’s been quite a journey since then. So, yeah, a lot has changed.
Guthrie: Well, we’re talking today about the book, 1 Corinthians, which is a big long book, with so much to cover, so many challenging sections. So I think we’re going to dive right in.
Guthrie: There are some books that just stand on their own and you don’t have to know a lot about what was going on around them or what’s underneath it. Is that the case for 1 Corinthians, or what do we need to know that might not be immediately obvious to us when we begin reading the letter that’s going to help us in getting it right as we seek to teach it?
Lanier: Sure, yeah, that’s a really important point. Compared to say Ephesians, which is pretty strong. I mean, it has a context, but it’s pretty straightforward. It’s a gospel presentation with implications. Romans, kind of, fits that bill. 1 Corinthians, maybe more so than any other of Paul’s letters to churches. We could take out the pastoral epistles. You’re being parachuted into, essentially, a dumpster fire. And it’s a dumpster fire that is part of a pretty long standing relationship that Paul has had with this particular church. And so, whenever you pick up 1 Corinthians, actually, you’re listening into half of an ongoing conversation. You’re only getting Paul’s side of it, in other words. And it’s a conversation that he’s been having with the Corinthians and will continue to have for a while. And so, that makes the context in terms of who they are, what are they dealing with, and what are their problems? Makes it all the more important because that’s specifically what he’s addressing in this letter. So to make any sense of it, you’ve got to, kind of, get oriented to that stuff.
Guthrie: Would you call 1 Corinthians a letter of correction?
Lanier: Yeah. And, I mean, it’s not particularly nice, in most cases. It’s not quite as snarky as Galatians can be. But he is pretty much, from start to finish, taking them to task. And if you had to assign a theme to the letter, which can be a bit difficult to do because he’s covering so many different things. He is putting out this fire then that fire. It’s essentially something along the lines of, “The wisdom of Christ is sufficient for your holiness, or for your growth and grace.” It’s something like that. He is trying to say, “You don’t need these other things, we don’t need all these things. All you need is Christ, and Christ will help you correct a lot of the theological and moral hemorrhaging that’s going on in the church.” And so, it is a letter of correction, and it’s a dozen or more topics that he’s just going to tick them off one by one and go through them.
Guthrie: And don’t we, a couple of times, we’re signaled to what he’s basing this on? That he has gotten a letter from them, and he’s heard reports about them, correct?
Lanier: Yeah. And he’s written a letter already to them. So Paul arrives in Corinth on a second journey. He spends about 18 months there, and so that’s in Acts 18. Leaves there, goes back to Jerusalem, back out. And when he’s camping out in Ephesus for several years, he, at some point, writes them a letter, and he mentions that in 1 Corinthians 5. He says, “I wrote you in my letter, not to do this and that.” And so, that’s what folks call sort of 0 Corinthians because we don’t have that letter anymore. He’s had Titus go, he’s had multiple correspondences with them, and at some point, they wrote him back. He mentions in 1 Corinthians 7, “Now, concerning the matters about which you write…” So that’s another letter that’s come to him. And then, he’s written this letter. As you get to 2 Corinthians, he mentions yet another letter, which is, sort of, like 1.5 Corinthians, so to speak. This is called the severe letter or the tearful letter when he says, “I didn’t want to do it, but I wrote you this. I couldn’t come, so I wrote you this letter.”
And then you have 2 Corinthians. And so, you’re in the middle already, or like five letters, some from them, and some from Paul. And so, it’s quite the complex situation that we really have to roll up our sleeves to get our heads around, because there’s a lot of back and forth. There’s a lot of water under the bridge in other words, that we’re not always clued into, and so all we have is the letter, so you just, kind of, work through it.
Guthrie: Well, help us to figure out how we would organize our teaching. It seems like you go through the letter, and you can tell he’s responding to something, because it’s, kind of, like, “Now, about this…”
Lanier: Yeah, exactly.
Guthrie: “… and now, about that.”
Lanier: Yeah, I mean, sometimes he’s quoting, depending on which translation you have, sometimes they’ll even put it in quotation marks, like, “Now, concerning what you wrote, quote, “A man should not have relations with his wife.” So that may very well be an excerpt from their letter, so he clearly is signaling that. It’s almost like he’s got this list of things. He’s like, “All right, about this one, let me do the next one, and let me just tick these off.” And so, it makes it a bit hard to, kind of, structure how you want to do it.
Guthrie: So, if you were teaching it, I mean, would you just determine, like I read one place. It said, basically, that there were 11 issues. I wonder if that’s what you would say? And so, would that mean you would do it over 11 sessions? Or if at your church, you’re a part-time pastor at your church.
Lanier: Yeah, sure.
Guthrie: How would you approach your structure for how you’re going to teach the book?
Lanier: In terms of, sort of, macrostructure, I think spending, maybe, one lesson just giving an overview of the situation, maybe an overview of his argumentative strategy, which I’d love to talk more about, what exactly he’s doing.
Guthrie: And, just go back to the situation. Are there a couple of resources that you might point us to that help us layout that foundation situation, or are you thinking, “You’re just going to draw it all from the text itself”?
Lanier: Oh, I mean, probably a bit of both. In terms of just general background, I like to think of it as, a bit of Atlanta and with a Vegas mixed in, as opposed to say, London. If Rome is London, old city, center of the world, so to speak. Corinth is sort of, a relatively new, up and coming city. A lot of social movement going on mostly new wealth, not a big history because it was recently destroyed. And so, you have a tremendous amount of, you know, lower-class people making it up the ladder, you have wealth and poverty issues, you have a whole bunch of social and moral issues that come with that. You see that loud and clear in the letter. And so, it profiles much like young city with an upwardly mobile population. Mostly people working, mostly working-class or merchant class folks.
And so, you actually see that in the letter, the reason why they are bickering at the Lord’s Supper and why the poor are being left out. As well you have these upwardly mobile newly wealthy people who are shunning them. We see that all the time today. You know, the reason why you have the issue about prostitution, about sexual infidelity, you even have a raging incest problem, is because it is a thoroughly pagan background city. That’s what they do in Corinth. And so, all those things are very much impacting the Christians in Corinth. And so, you’re, sort of, parachuting into this scrappy congregation that’s got a whole lot of problems because they’re in this thoroughly pagan, newish city, pretty important city in the Roman Empire. And so, they are not only in the world, but they are, in many respects, of the world. And so, Paul wants to rebuke them for that.
Guthrie: It makes me think about our day and time, that if we went a short time back in history, you know, people consider this a Christian nation, and it certainly had a real basis in Judeo-Christian values. But it seems as though we’re entering a new period of time, that is more deeply secular. And that the mindsets and assumptions of people are going to become a little bit more, you used the word pagan…
Lanier: Yeah. Or certainly, worldly, yeah.
Guthrie: Yeah. We’re going to be dealing with some of the issues they are, of people coming out of a very worldly, Christless life that then have to figure out, “What are the implications for now embracing Christ for things about my family, and my sexuality, and all of these issues?”
Lanier: Yeah, you know, insofar as the big… [inaudible] more well-known letters like Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, the heart of them is the basics of the Christian message, right? The personal work of Jesus. You don’t really get a lot of that in 1 Corinthians, which doesn’t make it untheological. What 1 Corinthians is, is an application of that truth. And that, I think, is immensely relevant today.
Guthrie: Really helpful to us.
Lanier: Because he’s showing, okay, I have this one gospel, look it up in Galatians, right? What he’s trying to do is say, “It applies to every single part of your life, and whether it’s lawsuits with other Christians and how to interact with the judicial system. Whether that is, “What is our eternal hope and what’s going to happen to my body?” I just did a youth lesson a couple of weeks ago on Darwinism and the Big Bang, and like, “What’s going to happen to our bodies when this is all over with? And, you know, if I listened to my science teacher, versus…” So he’s working out. 1 Corinthians doesn’t have a, sort of, “Romans Road” in it. What it has is, “Okay, this is the truth, and let me apply it to all these different issues that they are very much feeling as they are in this somewhat disoriented position of, “We are Christians in a non-Christian city.” And that couldn’t be more relevant today.
Lanier: You know, one way you could do it is, start describing what you see in the text. It’s like, “Hey, which city am I talking about?” Because it’s going to sound like, “Oh, wow, it sounds like…”
Guthrie: Like a modern city?
Lanier: “… it sound like Portland or it sounds like, you know, Austin, Texas, or it sounds like…” No, actually this is…
Guthrie: Oh, that’s good.
Lanier: Corinth in 53 AD. And so, maybe that could be a hook..
Guthrie: Yeah. I like it.
Lanier: Okay, at times, this is going to feel foreign to me because, okay, what’s going on with head covering? But the issues they’re facing are exactly the same thing. And the underlying dynamics are exactly the same that we face today. So, all the books. But the basic flow is, he’s going to spend the first four chapters getting at the heart of their problem, which relates to ignoring the foolishness of the gospel, and privileging worldly wisdom. Privileging what they’re getting from the philosophers and from what we would call mainstream media, or Oprah, or the New York Times today. And they have downplayed this old news about a dead messiah. And so, he says, “The source of your problem is that.” And in that early section, he’s also saying, “I’m seeing it play out in particular in factions.” And I’ll tell my students, and this, hopefully, isn’t going to get me in trouble, but, you know, today, “We are in this conference.” You know, “We’re in this denomination.” Well, “We go to this…” You know, “We go to…”
Guthrie: “I read this author,” right? Yeah.
Lanier: I won’t name names. Yeah, “I like this author. I like this big-name figure, and this is the team I’m on.” And that’s exactly what was happening [crosstalk].
Guthrie: We call them tribes.
Guthrie: So the Paul tribe, the Peter tribe, the Apolloish tribe, and apparently the Jesus tribe. And so, he specifically starts there because he sees this infatuation with everything we are infatuated with today, like big platforms, rhetorical ability, lots of followers. And so he says, “That is the symptom of this underlying issue, you’ve missed the gospel.” And so, it begins with the factionalism. So that’s, sort of, section 1 through 4. And then he goes into, mostly things related to sexuality, in kind of, 5 through 7 with a side bit on lawsuits. But you’ve got divorce and remarriage, you’ve have incest embedded in that, you have church discipline, you have what to do if you’re betrothed, and not, you know, get cold feet. There’s, sort of, different ways of taking that.
So he deals with, basically, a big category dealing with sexual wholeness. So that’s really 5 through 7, 8 through 10 is generally related to, how do we live in a pagan world? And the issue that they were facing is, “Where do we get our meat?” They weren’t yet in an era where they had the meatless hamburgers, which I guess is the thing now. So they had to get their meat from the idol festivals, and the temple, and so forth. And so, that was a real issue, “Can we do this or not?” And so, he addresses that. And, actually, tremendous theological answer yes he gives to that more so than the symptom issue of, “Can we eat meat?” The real issue is, “How do we relate to our past?” “We’ve come out of,” at least most of the Corinthian church, “We’ve come out of a very dark background where we literally believe we were worshipping false gods, and eating that meat was part of that. Okay, now I’m washed and I made clean, what do I do now?”
And so, you can apply that to any situation today, and that’s what we all deal with when we come to the Lord. So even though that’s the main thing, it has a much broader application. The next big section which is where everyone, sort of, shipwrecks is the spiritual gift section, 12, 13, and 14. And it’s complicated and it’s thorny, but it’s still the same basic theme. They’re privileging and putting a lot of value on visible shows and the ecstatic tongues versus other less, from their perspective, less interesting things. So he has to get that in order and, sort of, all kinds of problems in their worship service. And then he concludes from, you know, 15, and then the wrap-up in 16 with this beautiful resurrection body discussion. So that’s, maybe, a way to do it.
Guthrie: Well, maybe that’s a good structure for our conversation too…
Lanier: Sure, I know.
Guthrie: …then to drop into each of those five sections, and ask the question, how does Paul apply the gospel here? So let’s start at the beginning, and it’s this big conversation about wisdom. And he makes this statement that the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God. And he goes on to say, actually, that Christ is our wisdom. We use the word wisdom, in a modern sense. Can our modern sense of wisdom, is it sufficient for us to understand what he’s talking about when he’s talking about wisdom?
Lanier: It’s not necessarily insufficient, what he’s doing in that argument, Corinth had synagogues of Jews, but it’s mostly Gentile background. This one church that’s forged out of that is going to have a bit of both. It’s going to be mostly Gentile, but it’s certainly going to have some Jews. And he says, “Look, here’s the problem. Those who come from a Jewish background are seeking sign.” What he means by that is, just like in ancient Israel, they’re looking for Moses or someone to do these signs, and the signs validate God. And they say, “This is God. This is why we trust in and that’s why we believe in it.” And he says, “Greeks value wisdom.” And so, what he means by wisdom there is the whole tradition of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, the truly, sort of, sophisticated educated life of philosophy, and thinking, and that particularly…
Guthrie: And then how that’s communicated rhetorically, in rhetoric?
Lanier: And how it’s communicated, yeah. And, Paul is very well versed in this. I mean, you see this in particular even before he gets to Corinth when he is in Athens, he goes toe-to-toe with the stoics and the Epicureans. He knows their system backwards. He even knows some of their authors, he quotes, Aretas, and so on. And so, he knows the wisdom from a Greek perspective. He knows that in and out. He’s taken his philosophy 101 class, and he’s able to use that. And so, he knows those who come from that background, what they value is worldly wisdom communicated in a certain way, that is respectable in society, that wins, likes, comments, and subscribes, so to speak, online, you know, lots of followers, and so on. So he’s like, “The problem is that both halves of the church are looking for the wrong thing.” The Jewish background, they’re seeking signs, and maybe that perhaps relates to some of the spiritual gifts stuff, it’s not 100% sure.
And then you have the Gentiles who are privileging and really wanting to see a show. And he says, “Okay, Christ is the sign, and Christ is the wisdom. The problem is your thinking a dead messiah is neither. A crucified messiah doesn’t check the sign box, and it certainly doesn’t look wise in worldly standards. And so, that’s where he starts. He’s like, “Okay, we’ve got to invert that, and correct that for everyone in the church.” And so that’s where he starts. So in some respects, it has a lot of analogs today in terms of what the hearts of our people seek after, where their minds go, where their hearts go, on a day-to-day basis. I’ve had folks say, “Look, if God exists, I want to see something. I want to see him show up. Why don’t we see miracles anymore?” You’ve got other folks say, “Look, Christianity is this. It’s not Nietzsche, you know, it’s not Aristotle.”
So you just keep talking about Jesus. Like, show me the subtle philosophy, show me the self help. And Christians can fall victim to that. That’s how we end up reading bad theology, and giving people platforms that shouldn’t have them, and so forth, because we get distracted by the wrong thing. So he starts there, because that is ultimately… When they’re seeking knowledge outside of God, outside of his self-revelation in Jesus, you’re going to end up in a lot of different bad places. And at that point, you just pick and choose what you want to follow, and that’s exactly what they’ve done. They say, “Hey.” When he gets to 1 Corinthians 5, he says, look, you have a man who is committing incest, apparently with his stepmother. Not only do you not think this is a problem, you’re actually boasting in this because you bought into a pagan way of thinking. This is how we show that we’re on the right side of history. This is how we show that we are progressive-minded, and modern, or what have you.
So it’s the exact same thing that we face today. So there’s tremendous amount of common ground there, just different issues, but the same basic problem. What I find so immensely important about that, he says, “Look, all we need is Christ. You guys want these other things, you want signs, you want wisdom.” And he says, “Whether you like it or not, all I have to offer you is Jesus. All I know is Christ and Him crucified.” And that’s one of two different places he summarizes what he’s all about. The other place is in Romans where he says, “What I’m really about is the ministry of the gospel.” He wants to see the nation’s come to Jesus.So he is, sort of, about those two things. And so, he says, “We have what we need.”
The other I would mention if I were doing a, kind of, intro discussion that I think will then lay the foundation for the rest is, given that Paul is correcting specific problems they have, I think it’s really useful to give them a very simple way to track what he does when he’s trying to correct them. Problem with 1 Corinthians in modern-day discussions and whether it’s head coverings, whether its tongues, whether it’s divorce and remarriage is, a lot of folks say, “That was all then.” Anything he has to say about sex, marriage, what you eat, all that was just 53 AD, 55 AD-Corinth, none of it really has any relevance today except for chapter 13, because we read that at weddings, right? So on the one hand, I don’t want to fall by exhorting folks to take seriously, the context. The error would be that the local situation at Corinth is all that matters, and this is simply just a description of some things that happened and let’s move on. And so what I try to say is, look there’s three basic things you need to keep in mind with every one of these issues he deals with, and I’ll start with the third one. Third one is, what is the local situation? For instance, it’s specifically, “I follow Peter, I follow Apollos…”
Guthrie: Those divisions?
Lanier: “…I follow Paul.. That’s the division. Those things are on the ground real issues that are not repeated, and it’s like, I’m assuming we don’t have that in my church, right, or at least some of those things. So that’s the historical situation. And a lot of folks just want to leave it there, but that’s not what Paul does. If you look at every single one of them, there’s two steps he takes. The first step, he establishes a theological ground for what he’s going to say. It’s fascinating, you look at every single one of them, and it’s something about God, it’s something about Jesus, many of them, it’s a quotation of the Old Testament. And so he’ll go to Adam and Eve for dealing with, sort of man, woman, head coverings, that kind of stuff. He goes to Deuteronomy for, how do you deal with a guy in your church who is in a flagrant situation of sin? He’ll go to Numbers, and Israel in the wilderness, and the baptism of Moses, and the whole story of the serpents, and all that kind of stuff to explain what to do with pagan offerings to idols.
So each step along the way, he always goes to a theological point that he says, “This is why I’m going to tell you what I’m going to tell you.” That’s where we can go and say, “That principle isn’t just 53 AD, that is 2019, 2020, 2021. Because he’s arguing from Scripture, he’s arguing from the character of God, he’s not just winging it, to address a particular situation. The middle step is, what does he do with that principle? So if he says, “Okay, because God is X, because Christ has risen from the grave, because Christ is our Passover lamb, therefore purge the leaven from among you. And because you’ve got this dumpster fire issue, let me tell you what to do.” And he gives them instructions. That middle category, I think, is where we’re using our wisdom to say, “Okay, what part of that can we model ourselves after?” What part of that is for us to do? And many times, it may be. It’s like we should do the same. Sometimes we might draw more principles from it, but I think that three-step process really simplifies, what’s the theology, how is he applying it, and then what’s the concrete situation? That helps you, kind of, figure out how to navigate through each.
Guthrie: So with each of these situations, I’m wanting to ask, what does he appeal to, and determine how he’s going to tell us how to live?
Lanier: And we can go into some examples and then flesh that out. And what I think is so helpful about that, insofar as there’s a tremendous urge to say none of it’s relevant for us, it’s just what happened back then. The opposite extreme is, 100% of it is word-for-word relevant today. Therefore, everyone must wear a head covering in church or you’re not a Christian, right? Because we have to implement this literally all the time, and that’s not generally a very safe place, either.
Guthrie: Well, this is how you’re going to help us.
Lanier: So we’re trying to navigate some places in between because there are things that are absolutely applicable today, but there are some things that was a specific situation, right? And so, giving at least that grid can help you have a healthier conversation versus just picking. The thing that’s so cool about 1 Corinthians, it shows us Paul doing that. It shows him, a bunch of fire drills pop up, and he says, “Okay, let me think, what in my theology, in my reading of the Old Testament, which is mostly what he had at that point, and my understanding of the work of Jesus, how do I apply that to this situation? And that’s…
Guthrie: Yeah. And so, what did the Old Testament say? And then, what difference does the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus make in this?
Lanier: And let me apply that to this new situation, because the Old Testament may not have spoken, and when we get to divorce and remarriage, when we get there, he actually draws a distinction, what Christ explicitly said and then what I’m building on. The Old Testament and The New Testament aren’t exhaustive for every known possible situation. They don’t tell us what to do with the internet, right? And so, what Paul models for us is, “Okay, with this new information, this new situation that hasn’t happened before, necessarily, how do we take the one gospel that’s unchanging, or how do we take the character of the triune God which is unchanging and apply it to this new situation? He models that for us, and I think if nothing else, that’s what you want to help them get out of 1 Corinthians is, how do I reason Biblically?
Guthrie: All right, so we talked a little bit about the wisdom of God in that first little section. How about if we jump to chapters 5 through, would you go through 7?
Lanier: Yeah, generally 5 through 7 are, kind of, grouped. It’s not…
Guthrie: Yeah, it’s about sexual immorality.
Lanier: It’s not all uniform [inaudible 00:26:41].
Guthrie: Now, you recently taught on this at your church, didn’t you?
Lanier: I did, yeah, for about 25 weeks, we did.
Guthrie: Twenty-five weeks? In what, in chapters, just 5?
Lanier: No, no, no. It was the entirety of gender and sexuality.
Guthrie: Okay. This is an issue for today, isn’t it? I’m thinking about a couple of conversations I had recently, and you can tell me whether or not you think those relate. Paul is training us to make wise decisions…
Lanier: Yeah, it’s a good way to phrase it, yeah.
Guthrie: …in regard to these matters. Like, I talked to one person who talked about how they had someone in their church who had been transgender and came to Christ, but had had surgery. And they had to figure out how to help that person figure out what’s it going to look like to go forward as a believer, or another person I talked to, a gay couple had come to Christ. They have a child, and they had to figure out how to tell, yeah, these folks to live out this newfound identity in Christ. So this may seem very far away from us, but it seems to me that maybe Paul is training us for how to apply Biblical wisdom to even those kinds of situations that are very modern.
Lanier: Yeah. Paul was certainly familiar with the notion of same-sex not only attraction and affection, so forth, but also physical relationships, emotional relationships, and so, even in 1 Corinthians 7, he signals that, and elsewhere. Many of us would be scandalized if we were at Corinth, in Paul’s day in terms of, their pottery would have had erotic actions depicted on it. And so, like, pass me the water jug, and you see some profane things. So it’s actually not all that unfamiliar, even though Paul’s only giving us a few examples to, you know, one of them being this man who has his father’s wife. You know, okay, maybe incest is not something that is a social value right now, but there are similar kinds of things.
I mean, the challenges is that three-step process I mentioned in terms of theological grounds, how he applies them, and then what the historical situation is. They’re all interwoven, it’s not like, “Okay, let me give you the first three…” You know, it’s not like we would do it in a sixth-grade paper. But generally speaking, they become fairly clear. So if you just look at 1 Corinthians 5, the concrete situation is, it’s actually reported there, “Sexual immorality among you, a kind not even tolerated among pagans for a man has his father’s wife.”
So the specific situation is this issue of incest. And of course, you may say, “Well, we don’t have incest in my church, therefore we can move on.” But that would be missing his point. The point is, what is he going to do with this? Throughout the passage, a few things he points to. First, in verse 4, he says, “When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus, and with the power of our Lord Jesus.” So something about their congregation, something about the Christian church is corporately in the name of Jesus. It’s set apart to be in him, which by the way is a mind-blowing concept just in its own right. That’s one thing he goes to.
Second thing he goes through in verse 6, “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven,” he said. Okay, and this is interesting, why? So the cleansing out the leaven, that goes back to The Old Testament. When are they not supposed to eat leaven? Pop quiz. And they still do it today in the Jewish…
Guthrie: Leading up to a particular feast or festival.
Lanier: Yeah, and in particular, Passover. And that’s exactly where he goes. So he says, “All right, the Old Testament principle is, leaven works its way through the whole lump.” He says, “That’s why you’ve got to symbolically get rid of leaven.” He says, Here’s why. Christ is our Passover lamb.” So he fuses the entirety The Book of Exodus, and all the principles about purity in the community, and why you need to get rid of leaven because you’re not going to, you know, celebrate God making you consecrated to Himself. He says, “Now that’s Christ. Christ is our Passover lamb.” That’s what he hangs his hat on.
And then finally he goes down in verse 12, “Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge because God judges those outside.” And then he quotes Deuteronomy, “Purge the evil person from among you.” So those would be, kind of, the three things he hangs his hat on. We are consecrated in the Lord, Christ is our Passover, therefore, the whole thing about purity and the leavening of the lump, and I need to get rid of the leaven, that is now Christologized, so to speak. It’s been totally transformed to Jesus. Then he lands with Deuteronomy. It’s fascinating.
So basically his point is that people of God should be a holy consecrated people. And that, by the way, strikes against a lot of modern, sort of, broadly evangelical thinking, which is, “Hey, we’re just a bunch of mess.” Like, okay, once in us, I get that we’re all sinners, but actually, that’s not Paul’s argument at all. His argument is, “No, we are to be consecrated because the Passover has happened, the real Passover has happened.” That’s his grounds. The situation is, this man and sin, and so what is his application? Where he says, “All right, let him who has done this be removed from you.” And then he says, “You know, when you gather, deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh.” Verse 9, “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people.” And he says, “Not those of the world because again, God’s going to take care of them.”
Guthrie: This seems like a very important principle to make clear.
Lanier: Yeah, exactly. He says, “Not those of the world.” And that’s why the Passover principal is so key, and maybe we can come back to that. He says, “Look, I’m not saying you’ve got to get away from, and shun your neighbor who you know, you know, has sexual problems.” He says, “Look, I’m not trying to say separate yourself from the sexually immoral of the world, or the greedy, or idolaters or something, then you would have nowhere to go.” But he’s saying, I’m writing to you not to associate with someone who bears the name of brother. That is they say, “I’m a Christian and we’re celebrating the fact that I’m in this [inaudible 00:32:25] sexual relationship, I’m a thief, or I’m a swindler.
Someone who bears the name of brother who boasts in that, don’t associate with that person if they are, sort of, willfully in this life of sin.” So Paul almost, sort of, anticipates what we’re all going to say, right, “Well, who are you to judge, Paul? Why don’t you throw the first stone?” Right? he says, “Okay. No, let me just throw that on is the side.” He says, “Look, we’re supposed to judge or adjudicate.” It’s hard to translate that word. We’re supposed to exercise discernment over those inside, we’ve got to watch our house. We’re not worried about the outside world, God’s going to judge them.
So it’s interesting flow. He says, “Look that people of God are to be whole, we’re to be consecrated to God because of Christ our Passover lamb.” He says, “All right, so if you have someone who is boasting about sexual immorality,” in other words, who is not repentantly grieving it but who’s flaunting it. He says that cannot be in the church.
Guthrie: Yeah, this is so timely. Also, in the broader church, and we could even say, broader evangelical church, some who would say that some matters of sexuality certainly living in homosexual relationships. Some would say that that is an option for a believer would still call themselves Christians. It’s saying the world’s going to be the world, but Paul’s concerned how people who go by the name of Christ are living. And he’s pretty adamant that they should be thrown out and consider them outsiders.
Lanier: We are a people being consecrated out from the world. Okay, so that’s what the Passover is about. And as that people, we are to purge the worldly elements from among us. And that’s what the whole leaven symbolism is about. And so I mean, is that an easy truth? No. But he seems fairly, fairly clear on that. What’s interesting is that, approaching it this way helps you pull out of the weeds of, “Well, this is Paul at a certain point in time, and they didn’t understand desires,” or whatever the issue is, “They don’t understand the way we do because we’re enlightened modern people.”
He says, “No, actually, my argument isn’t personal preference, it isn’t cultural, it isn’t because I’m afraid of things, it’s because of the character of God and what God has done with his people, and the work of Jesus.” So, that’s where he goes. And I don’t think most folks who want to cross the rubicon of saying, “The work of Christ itself is no longer relevant.” Most folks in the, sort of, broadly orthodox line of Christianity aren’t ready to, kind of, cross that, and that’s exactly where he hangs his arguments. So it’s not easy, and it requires patience and so forth, but that’s where he goes.
Guthrie: Let’s go to chapter 8.
Lanier: All right.
Guthrie: About food offered to idols. So…
Lanier: Also known as, “Can I drink?”
Guthrie: Okay, I was going to ask.
Lanier: As a RUF crusade staffer or crew staffer. I get my [inaudible 00:35:11], because it’s like, “Okay, I know what you all just want to know. Is, can you drink or not?” I mean, it’s a serious issue, but…
Guthrie: Absolutely. What is the modern-day corollary to food offered to idols or what are some of them that you can think of?
Lanier: That’s a good question. The reason why that was an issue is, in Paul’s day at Corinth, and most of the, you know, Roman cities, meats would have been expensive, would have been generally harder to come by than grain, and so forth, and vegetables. And so, because their entire sacrificial system and the gods they worship, which you see mentioned multiple times in the New Testament, whether it’s Artemis of the Ephesians, or Zeus and so forth. They operated via sacrifices to appease the gods. And so, what they did is, they would sacrifice the meat to pacify Apollo.
And because they didn’t want to waste the food, you know the priests would get their share and then they would sell the rest. For a Christian coming out of that background where for their Thanksgiving feast, their equivalent of that, they’re going to go up to the Artemis temple, and they’re going to get the meat that, whether they believed in it or not, they were still participating in this, “Okay, this is offered up to placate the gods.” The Gentile background converts to the Corinthian church, that’s what they had been doing, you know, what, from the time they were a kid.
And so, it’s a real issue of conscience for them. Can I associate with that formal way of life or not, or would that defile me as a Christian? Many things can fit into that, take the mission field, for instance. Within the broadly Muslim, you know, sort of, the 10/40 window. Anyone who is a missionary in the Muslim world, a constant thing they deal with as the relatively small number of Muslims convert to Christianity is, “Okay, how do I relate to the mosque, now?” To what degree would participating in Eid, post-Ramadan feast, to what degree would that sacrifice Christian convictions?”
I mean, even as an American, you know, or some people at our church have Muslim neighbors, they get invited to a breaking of the Ramadan fast dinner. Can we do that or not? Would that be participating in false religion? So that’s one example. You know, going out to bars. I had a buddy of mine in college, who was adamant that Christians still needed to go drink heavily at bars for mission’s purposes. We still need to go and do that kind of stuff to show that we’re not weird, and to meet people on their own turf, and so forth. And many of us were like, “That’s insane.” It’s not the drinking that’s the issue, but associating with a certain pattern.
Guthrie: Let me ask you about this one. Would this be a corollary? What are you going to do with money that comes to your ministry that maybe came from, say, gambling. Would that be a corollary?
Lanier: You mean, if someone gambled and then…
Guthrie: Gambled and then gave…
Lanier: …tithed it, or something like that?
Lanier: Let’s say, someone used to be big into gambling, they’ve come to Jesus. Okay, to what degree, regardless of your stance on the legitimacy of gambling, which is an important but different issue, and stuff like dancing and cards, right? To what degree can they associate with that formal way of life. And so that’s probably more than parallel. Or any, sort of, addictive lifestyle could fit the bill there. And so, it’s those kinds of things that I think we can make this application from. And so it’s interesting, and this passage is, particular chapter, well both 8 and 10 just have some of the most mind-blowing theology that he has. With respect to food offered to idols, his answer goes back to the Shema that, “The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” And it’s there in verse 6.
He says, “For us, there’s one God, the Father from whom are all things, and for Him, we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom, we exist.” Then he also says in verse 4, “There is no god but One.” All of that is actually just bedrock Old Testament theology of the oneness of God. The fascinating thing is that he has sort of transfigured it around Jesus. He’s sort of crammed Jesus into the Shema, because the Shema is, “The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” So you’ve got Lord, you’ve got God, and you’ve got one. And he takes those words, and he sort of parses them out between Father and Son.
And so this is a very famous passage in New Testament theology where the inclusion of Jesus and the one true God is just sort of very clear. And the fact that he uses the Old Testaments Shema, the Deuteronomy 6:4 to do it is mind-blowing. But he goes back and says, “Okay, when we deal with issues of food offered idols or even abstract from that, your past and past habits, past things you were involved in.” What he goes back to is the character of God. That God is the one who is the source of all existence.
And his particular application then is, idols are fake, food itself is just food. It doesn’t make us any further away from God or any closer to God. He says, “We’re no worse off what we eat, we’re no better off if we do, because God is the Lord over all this stuff.” God/the Father, Son, Holy Spirit, they’re the source of all existence, it’s all theirs. And so, whether you eat or not is not ultimately… The fact that the food was sacrificed to Apollo, God knows Apollo doesn’t exist. He’s the God that created all things, right? And so that’s his argument. So what is his application? He says, “It’s not the thing that’s going to make you closer to God or not close to God, it’s how you do it with respect to your own conscience and other people’s conscience.” That’s where he goes with it.
So you got to, again, to put it in the grid. The local issue, sort of, the far right of my grid as I do it visually in front of you. The issue is food sacrificed to idols. The theology is, the character and oneness of God as revealed in Jesus. And the application is, in the eyes of God, you need to follow your conscience, and in particular, in these 1 Corinthians 8 and 10, you need to guard the conscience of the other person who may be confused about the character of God. That’s his point. And so, what’s so interesting about this, he says, “All right, look. Whether you eat this food or not doesn’t really matter, but if someone could confuse that as if you are a Christian sanctioning the worship of Apollo, that’s when it would be a problem.” That’s where he goes.
If someone else’s conscience would think that to be a Christian equals, we sacrifice to Zeus, then that is the problem because there’s one true God. And so, if you took that to… And this is actually when someone asked me what to do with the Muslim feast, I said, “Look, your neighbor knows you’re a Christian. You’ve invited them to our stuff and they’ve come. Like, they know where you stand, they know you don’t worship Allah.” I mean, good principal edMuslims know that we don’t believe in the same thing, regardless of what the news says that they’re all the same God. A good, consistent Muslim realizes there’s a big difference in how we worship, and how they worship, and what we believe.
And so, they know that that’s where you stand. They know that you don’t just think Jesus is a messenger, you think he’s the Living God. There’s no confusion about that. So it’s up to you and your conscience to say, “What I’m doing is going to show love to them as my neighbor to go and have fellowship with them over something that’s important to them, but I’m not doing anything to show that I actually think it’s real worship.” And as long as they get that, then…according to 1 Corinthians…
Guthrie: Then you have freedom.
Lanier: Then you have some freedom of conscience. If, however, they think that you’re actually offering sacrifices to, you know, Allah in the name of Mohammed, then you’ve got a problem. And so, then you would avoid that. So I think you can, sort of, apply that thought process to a lot of these different issues. If someone thinks that to be a Christian is to gamble, or that gambling somehow relates to your relationship with God. If you’re sending that message, then that’s a problem, because then you could hurt the conscience of others. So I think that’s, kind of, where he goes with this. And so, it takes some time, it takes some thought. It’s not always straightforward in terms of how you apply it to the thorny things that pop up in life. But that’s the basic impulse that comes from a passage like that.
Guthrie: When we get into chapter 10, are we still talking about the same issue and some of the same argument when he says, “All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful, but not all things build up.” And he talks about doing everything to the glory of God.
Lanier: Yeah, exactly. So 8, 9, and 10 are, sort of, this one big argument, 9 is a bit odd because it seems to be this digression about Paul defending his apostolic credentials. But what he’s doing in 9 is saying, “Even I, as an apostle, have liberty of conscience, to marry or not marry, to take pay for my work or not.” So it does fit. It sometimes feels like a bit of a digression, but it actually fits with the flow. And so, in chapter 10, he definitely is resuming the argument in chapter 8. And so, some of the key things, you know, he says, “Flee from idolatry,” verse 14. He says when you actually religiously participate in a pagan sacrifice that makes it different.
He says, we can’t do that because it means you’re becoming, sort of, one with the deity. And by contrast, that’s what we do in our own Lord’s Supper, is we’re participating. So that’s the caution. And so, he says, “Look, at the end of the day, verse 20, “I imply that what pagan sacrifice, they offer to demons and not to God, and I don’t want you to be participants with demons.” So that’s the, sort of, bumper in the bowling alley. If it’s going to require you to do that, in terms of eating the meat, then don’t. We draw the line there. You can’t drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of demons. You can’t mix, right?
And so in verse 23, then, depending on who you read. Some argue, and then, like ESV, for instance, puts it in quotation marks. And so, when he says, “All things are lawful,” and then he says it again, that could be maybe a quotation of them. And that’s one theory, at least. Of course, we don’t have his punctuation, but it seems to make some sense. So maybe they’re saying, “Yes, aren’t all things lawful, we’ve achieved this worldly standing.” He critiques and says, “You already think you’re kings, you already think that you’ve arrived.” And so, maybe they’re the ones saying, “Look, we can do anything we want.”
He says, “Okay, on the one hand, some of that’s true,” because he’s already established, like, “Yeah, you do have liberty of conscience,” but not all things are helpful, and not all things build up. So the whole thrust is, we have liberty of conscience because of the work of Christ, because Christ is the one true God over all things, and he has delivered us from the powers of darkness, but what restrains our liberty is love for someone else and our own conscience?
Guthrie: And, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
Lanier: Right. And then, but the next verse, “Give no offense to Jews, or to Greeks, or to the Church of God.” So that even goes back. If you remember back to the chapter 1, 2, 3 stuff where he says, “Our behavior needs to be cognizant of people from these different backgrounds, how they think about things. And it’s different for both, but we’re trying to not diminish the gospel in front of the watchful eyes of the world,” basically. The whole thrust is what you do in front of other people who are watching matters. And he’s trying to give some theological ways to think through that. What are the restraints on our Christian liberties? How do we think through that?
Guthrie: How does it impact my brother?
Guthrie: How does it impact what I’m communicating about belonging to Jesus Christ?
Guthrie: We’ve covered a lot of important things, but we haven’t even nearly hit the hard stuff. So here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to bring this conversation to a close, and then we’ll open up in a part two of our conversation about 1 Corinthians. Are you game for that?
Lanier:It sounds great.
Guthrie: All right. Well, you’ve been listening to “Help Me Teach the Bible,” a production of The Gospel Coalition sponsored by Crossway. Crossway is a not for profit publisher of the ESV Bible, Christian books and tracts. Learn more about Crossway’s gospel center resources at crossway.org.