Introduction to Studying the Corinthian Letters
Studying the Bible
“Remind them of these things, charging them before the Lord not to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some.” (II Timothy 2:14-18).
Most people don’t actually study their Bibles. Instead, they search for statements that prove their current ideas. Thus they make the Bible speak their thoughts instead of speaking the thoughts of the Bible. “If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (I Peter 4:11). If we going to give God the glory, then we need to teach what God has taught.
But to teach requires understanding what the Bible actually states. “Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:17). It is natural for people to color what they see with their own thoughts and ideas. “To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled” (Titus 1:15).
I remember playing a game called Observation. It presented a complex picture of many things going on at once. The picture was held up for 30 seconds and then you were quizzed about the details in the picture. I was amazed how often some fact that I just knew was true turned out to be false when I went back to the picture. The picture hadn’t changed, my memory of what it contained was faulty.
Many disagreements and misunderstandings regarding the Scriptures can be quickly settled when people go back to the source. Often reading the verse again causes you to realize that what you just knew was in the Bible was quite as you remembered it. You might have forgotten the context or missed a critical word or phrase that changes the meaning of what was said significantly.
To really grasp the meaning of a text, we need to look at it repeatedly. But each examination cannot be the same or we will end up missing the same things we missed before. What helps is to tackle the puzzle from different perspectives.
Imagine putting together a very large jigsaw puzzle. How do you tackle the problem? Typically we start by looking for the corner pieces because they are easily identified. Then we start putting the edges together. Filling in the inside is a bit more difficult, but we start grouping pieces by their colors and textures knowing that similar colors and textures will likely be close to each other. And when we get stuck, sometimes it helps just to get up and sit at a different side of the puzzle. The change in perspective causes us to notice things we might have previously overlooked.
Understanding the Scriptures can be similar. We start out with the obvious facts, but for the deeper meaning, we need to find how the pieces fit together. For that to happen, we need to grasp the various pieces and look at them from different viewpoints.
We are doing to use both deductive and inductive approaches to understand I and II Corinthians. Inductive means that we start with the small pieces and work our way up to understanding the whole. It is a bottoms-up approach, which is useful because most of us then to think top-down. The deductive approach is to take the whole and divide it into parts. The deductive approach helps to keep us heading in the right direction – it is the corner and edge pieces in our puzzle. The inductive approach gets us to see things as they are and not as we would like them to be.
Where It Fits
There are 66 books in the Bible. Each book is written in a different style in a different time period by different authors to different people for different purposes. To find the edges, we need to know where I and II Corinthians fit into the overall layout of the Bible.
The 66 books are divided into two covenants: the Old Testament and the New Testament. We need to know which covenant a book falls into to know to whom it applied. The Old Testament was given to the Jews (Deuteronomy 5:1-3), the New Testament was given to all the world (Matthew 28:18-20).
In our Bibles, the books are organized by the type of book. In the Old Testament are the Law, History, Wisdom, Major Prophets, and Minor Prophets. In the New Testament, the sections are the Gospels, History, Letters, and Prophecy. The Letter section can be further divided into Letters by Paul and Letters by Others. The Letters of Paul are subdivided into Letters to Churches and Letters to Individuals. Both I and II Corinthians fit into the section of Paul’s letters to churches.
Looking at the Context
- Read through the entire book of I Corinthians, preferably in one sitting. Read it like you would a letter that was written to you from a friend. This will give you an overall feel for what the book is about.
- Read through the entire book of I Corinthians a second time and this time jot down answers to the following questions:
- Make a list of frequently repeated words, phrases, or ideas.
- Who are the people mentioned in I Corinthians?
- What events are mentioned which might help us date the book?
- What locations are mentioned?
- What kind of book is I Corinthians? (Historical, Biographical, Poetic, Proverbial, Prophetic, Instructional, or a combination?)