Division Over Leaders

Class Discussion:

  1. Review the assignment on the word “call.”
  2. What does “call” mean?
  3. Who are called?
  4. Why are they called?
  5. How are they called?

The Unity of Fellowship (I Corinthians 1:10)

Paul’s greatest concern was the Corinthian’s lack of unity. Paul exhorted (parakalo, meaning called them to come near) the Corinthians with the authority of Jesus Christ whom they all acknowledged as their Lord that they all continue saying the same thing (to auto legete pantes). The core of the problems in Corinth was the teaching of different doctrines. This cannot exist when Christ is the head of the church (Galatians 1:6-10). They were not to divide into different parties and schism because of variations in teachings. Paul’s point is that there should be no divisions among the brethren. This point is repeated again in I Corinthians 11:18 and 12:25.

Instead of division, Paul urges the Corinthians to be knitted together (katertismenoi). The word Paul uses in the Greek means to make complete, restore, or repair. It is the word used to say that James and John were mending their nets (Matthew 4:21; Mark 1:19) and thus can be used in regards to fixing someone’s broken salvation (Galatians 6:1). But it also means finishing off something already started, such as maturing faith (I Thessalonians 3:10) or knowledge (Luke 6:40). Paul returns to the idea of knitting various parts together in I Corinthians 12:12-31 and in II Corinthians 13:11.

To accomplish this, the Corinthians needed to be of the same mind. This doesn’t mean that they had to have exactly the same thought on every subject. Paul is talking about their thoughts about each other (Romans 12:16; 15:5-6). In other words, they should be in fellowship, having one heart and one mind (Acts 2:42; 4:32; Philippians 1:27; 2:1-2; 3:16; I Peter 3:8). It is the oneness that Jesus prayed for his disciples (John 17:21-23).

They also needed to be of the same judgment. The word gnome refers to a person’s resolve, purpose, or will (Acts 20:2-3; Revelation 17:17). "Fellowship" is sharing a similar attitude toward each other and God as well as sharing a common purpose in life or goal to achieve (Hebrews 12:1-3).

Class Discussion:

  1. Is the problem of dividing into parties or schisms unique to Corinth?
  2. Do you see this happening today? How?
  3. Why is division so bad?
  4. How can division be avoided?

Quarrels Over Leaders (I Corinthians 1:11-12)

Members of Chloe’s household have visited Paul in Ephesus and have made it clear (edelothe) that quarrels existed among the brethren in Corinth. Whether this was their intent in talking with Paul or that Paul discovered it while talking to them isn’t told to us. What is notably absent is that the quarrels were not mentioned in their letter to Paul. Paul learned about it through other sources, just as he later mentions learning about their acceptance of a fornicator (I Corinthians 5:1-2). It appears they did not understand the danger of quarrels to the Christian faith (Galatians 5:19-21; Romans 13:13-14; Titus 3:9, eris - disputes, contentions).

To justify their disagreements, they aligned themselves as followers of different teachers as if these men had actually taught different doctrines. As Paul just pointed out fellowship comes from teaching the same doctrine and these men were in fellowship with each other. The divisions they were creating were in their own minds and not in the teachings of these men.

There is Only One Head (I Corinthians 1:13)

Through a series of rhetorical questions (see below), Paul forces the Corinthians to prove to themselves that there cannot be divisions between the faithful teachers of Christ’s doctrine. Nor were any of these men using Christ’s doctrine to garner followers for themselves. Though Paul only asks of himself it is clear that Apollos or Peter could be substituted with the same answer given.

Christ, who taught that a kingdom divided against itself could not stand Matthew 12:25), could not be divided himself. Only Christ has died for the sins of mankind (Romans 14:9; II Corinthians 5:14-15; Titus 2:14). All Christians are baptized into Christ (Romans 6:3-4; Galatians 3:27). Therefore, Christians are followers of Christ, not any man no matter how well respected.

Literary Styles: Rhetorical Questions

Rhetorical questions are a way to engage the participation of the reader. Questions are asked where the answers are clear but not given. Still, the listener knows the answer and in the process of supplying the answer realizes that his prior way of thinking was wrong, and worse, he knew it.

In Greek, the first word of the question gives a hint as to how the questioner thinks the question should be answered. If the question starts with a negative, then the questioner is expecting a negative answer, as in the second question Paul asked in I Corinthians 1:13. If the question starts with an affirmative, then the questioner is expecting an affirmative answer. The question in Mark 4:38 is an example of this type of rhetorical question. Otherwise, the questioner is not indicating his expected answer. While the first and last questions are open-ended in I Corinthians 1:13, the expected answers are so clear that the listener is not left in doubt.

The repetition of the same answer to each question reinforces the point Paul is driving home: there is no justifiable reason for division among Christians as a normal course of existence.

Paul isn’t Looking for Followers (I Corinthians 1:14-16)

Because of these schisms, Paul finds it a blessing that he had not personally baptized very many in Corinth. He could think of only Crispus, Gaius, and Stephanas’ household. Paul feared that if there were more it might have lend credence to the idea that he had personal disciples among the Corinthians.

There are groups who attempt to use these verses to claim that baptism is unessential because Paul was thankful that he had not baptized people in Corinth. Clearly, such a contention is contrary to the context of the passage. Paul had baptized several and his other writings, such as Romans 6:3-7 and Galatians 3:26-27 make it clear that Paul saw baptism as essential for salvation. What Paul was concern about was the possibility of some twisting the events into baptisms into Paul instead of baptisms into Christ.

Paul’s placement of Stephanas’ household separately leads to the speculation that members of Stephanas’ household were converted in some other location in Achaia and had since moved to Corinth (I Corinthians 16:15-17) which is why Paul did not think of them immediately as ones he had baptized in Corinth.

Paul’s Mission (I Corinthians 1:17)

This verse is frequently misread as people ignore the ellipses present in this statement. Paul is not disparaging baptism but talking about the focus of his mission for Christ. Paul is stating that his primary purpose was not to just baptize people. His chief mission was to teach the gospel. Such teaching obviously leads to baptism (Acts 2:40-41; 18:4, 8). But Paul’s mission was to preach the gospel in a simple, straightforward manner so that the focus of the message remained on Christ’s death.

It appears that Paul, like Peter in Acts 10:48, had others do the actual baptisms while he continued to preach.

Literary Styles: Not ... But Ellipses

An ellipse takes place when an essential word or phrase is left out of a statement. You can determine from the statement that the word was meant to be there, but the very fact that it was left out causes the listener to focus on the missing part. It engages the mind of the listener to participate in the discussion by supplying the missing word.

A common style of ellipses in Greek is of a “not ... but” construction, where both the “not” and the “but” modify a shared verb. Often the shared verb does not appear after the “but,” but is implied as an ellipse. This type of sentence construction is idiomatic in Greek. When you see it, you should read it as “not only ... but also.” The idiom stresses that what comes after the “but” is considered to be far more important than what comes after the “not.”

An example of this construction is found in I Peter 3:3-4. The common verb is “let be.” Some translations supply the missing words. Peter is not saying that styling your hair, wearing jewelry, or dressing up is forbidden. He is saying that they aren’t very important when compared to dressing up the spirit with gentleness and quietness. The latter make a far greater impact on beauty than outward adornments, especially in God’s eyes.

In the case of I Corinthians 1:17 the common verb is “did send.” Paul did not claim that he wasn’t supposed to baptize. To claim that is to contradict what he just stated in the verses prior. What Paul is saying is that his duty to Christ was far broader than just baptizing people. He had the more important job of preaching the gospel, so he focused on this and let others do most of the baptizing.

Concept Study: Division

  1. Make a list of all the verses in I Corinthians where some form of the words “division,” “faction,” “debater,” “quarrel,” “contention,” “enemies,” “destroy” or their synonyms are used.
    1. Jot beside each reference what you learn from the verse about being divided.
    2. Organize those ideas. Which verses address the ideas of who, what, where, when, why, and how?
    3. Write a paragraph about what “division” means, addressing who, what, where, when, why, and how.
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