September 28, 2012

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Biblical readings: St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians

John F. FinkFor the past year, I have written about the biblical readings that appear in the Office of Readings, part of the Church’s Liturgy of the Hours. Most of the readings serialize books of the Bible over a period of a week or more. However, there are also some readings that appear only for special feasts or other occasions.

St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians is one of them. Selections from that letter are read on Trinity Sunday; feasts of Apostles, doctors of the Church, virgins, and those who work with the underprivileged; and in the Office for the Dead.

Anyone who is interested in the life of an early Christian community would do well to read the 16 chapters in this letter, which can be done easily during a week’s time. In it, Paul responds to questions addressed to him and to situations he has learned about. In the process, he also reveals much about himself.

Paul first went to Corinth, Greece, around the year 51. At the time, Corinth was an important seaport and commercial crossroads with various pagan cults and a good share of moral depravity. Paul began to preach about Christ to the Jews there, but they rejected him. Therefore, he turned to the Gentiles, where he had more success.

Paul was in Ephesus about the year 56 when he received word of factionalism and abuses among the Christians of Corinth. Even the majority of the community who were faithful had questions. That’s why he wrote this letter.

In the first four chapters, Paul tries to correct divisions in the Church. He praises the work of Apollos, who preached about Christ after Paul left Corinth, but chastises those who said they belonged to him. They must belong just to Christ, he says, because he was crucified for them.

Chapters 5 and 6 concern moral disorders that were reported to Paul, including a case of incest. He tells the Corinthians that an immoral person sins against his own body, which is a temple of the Holy Spirit.

In Chapters 7 through 10, he answers questions concerning marriage, virginity and other matters. Husbands and wives will be particularly interested in what he writes in the first seven verses of Chapter 7 about marital sexual activity.

Chapters 11 through 14 concern the liturgy, including Paul’s exposition of Christ’s institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. He warns the Corinthians that “whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Cor 11:27).

Chapter 13 is Paul’s great paean to love, read frequently at weddings.

Chapter 15 is Paul’s teaching about Christ’s resurrection followed by his teachings about the resurrection of the dead. These are the readings that are read in the Office for the Dead. He tells us that our natural body will be raised as a spiritual body.

He concludes the letter with a paragraph about the collection he is taking up for the Church in Jerusalem, and then tells of his travel plans. †

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