Friday, January 9, 2009

Is Paul Defensive in 1 Corinthians 9?

As I am studying 1 Corinthians 9 I find that many believe Paul is defending his apostleship. Many believe that Paul's apostleship is being questioned in Corinth (I think I agree to an extent with this point). 1 Corinthians 9 is then read through that lens as if Paul is defending himself with all of these rhetorical questions. Each question is thought to be a jab and a defense of Paul's apostleship.

Those that have such a view often have a hard time understanding why the change of tone and the seeming change of topic only to pick it back up again in chapter 10. This has led some to question the unity of 1 Corinthians.

But, I have a few questions. What if the presupposition is wrong? What if Paul's rhetorical questions are not defensive jabs but things he expects a reserved "amen" to? What if 1 Corinthians 9 is not departing from chapter 8 and chapter 10. What if Paul is merely using all of these rhetorical questions to show himself as an example of what he has just discussed in chapter 8?

I see verse 12b as the main point of this passage, "Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ." Is this not the same thing that he is encouraging those in Corinth to do in 8:13?

Does Paul not say in verse 15 "nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision"? To me Paul is helping them see that his point is not to say, "you need to listen to me, you need to pay me better, I want a wife, and did I mention you need to pay me". All of these leads up to the climax of the passage, "I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings".

As I have read through 1 Corinthians I do not see a distrust of Paul and a deep questioning of his apostleship as the fundamental and root issue. Instead what I see is pride, disunity, a lack of love, exalting of knowledge at the expense of love, and fundamentally a lack of love and submission to Jesus. I think the main point that Paul is proclaiming to the church at Corinth is this: Jesus is enough, live your life in such a way that Christ and his gospel is the foundation for everything you do.

Having said all of I way off base with 1 Corinthians 9? How do you read it? Would you agree with what seems to be the majority that Paul is defending his rights? Do you see what I see? Or do you see something else? Help!


  1. Here is an example of what I am saying:

    "v.3 While Paul obviously expects the rhetorical questions of vv. 1-6 to be answered in the affirmative, it is clear he has received criticism from some in the Corinthian church. The criticisms, so far as they can be read back from what Paul says in this chapter, apparently were that some felt he did not measure up to the standard these sophisticated Greeks expected of a philosopher, a professional wise-man, a rhetorician. After all, he made his living for those two years in Corinth working with Priscilla and Aquila in their leather-shop. He was a tradesman for goodness sake. He made change in the front of the shop. This man is our intellectual standard bearer? This is the fellow we point to as having brought us the answer to the great questions of life? And the second complaint was that on the question of eating meat offered to idols he was inconsistent. He ate it with Gentiles and did not with Jews. He will answer that objection in vv. 19-23..." Robert Reymond.

    My question is, why must it be clear that he has received criticism? Do we have to read the text in that way? It's possible that Paul has received criticism and that we can discern that from the text...but must that now serve as Paul's main point in the text?

  2. Mike,
    Here is my reading: that chapter 9 is a continuation of chapter 8, especially going off of verse 9. As it says in the note for 9:1 in the Reformation Study Bible, "Paul's willingness to forgo some of his rights is an illustration of the principle he stated in 8:9." However, I believe that there is an element of him defending himself as well. That same comment from the RSB goes on to say: " The question in v. 1 indicates that some of the Corinthians defended their conduct by questioning Paul's authority and criticizing his behavior."

  3. I think David is pointing to perhaps some form of a both/and view. I think when we read Scripture we often forget about the ambiguity of language. Perhaps both is going on. Is it possible that Paul might be pointing to his lack of "worldly" credentials (and thus silencing his critics) while at the same time highlighting the Christ-centeredness his ministry has had? I haven't looked at this passage in any depth for a while, but blessings to you as you study, brother.
    Hope the little one gets better way soon.
    Grace in Him,

  4. More what I was pointing at was that I think Paul was using his life to make a point. In chapter 8 Paul talks of the freedom that we have in Christ, but then also says in verse 9 that we are not to let that freedom become a stumbling block for weaker Christians. Then in chapter 9, I think he is using his ministry with the Corinthians as an example. That he has these legitimate rights as a man and as a Christian, but that he has laid them aside because the Corinthian believers are weak in faith and he does not want to be a stumbling block for them.



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