by A.E. Knoch

QUESTION: Some say that the first epistle to the Corinthians is written to Jews, not to gentiles, because Paul said that all their fathers were with Moses. Is this proof?

Before answering the question, which seeks to reason out the answer, let us see if we can find a basis for faith in what is actually said on this subject in the Scriptures. The facts are clearly set forth in Acts (18:6). Paul had been arguing in the synagogue, and finally certified to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ. "Now at their resisting and blaspheming, shaking out his garments, he said to them, 'Your blood be on your head! I am clear. From now on I shall go to the nations.'"

That the Jews continued in unbelief is clear from the fact that, later, "the Jews, with one accord, assaulted Paul" (verse 12). So few Jews believed that he can speak simply of "the Jews" as outside, not inside. Paul worked among the nations in Corinth after the Jews rejected his message. Many were reached during the year and six months he was in the city (verses 9-11). Acts teaches plainly that the Corinthian ecclesia was gentile, with only a few Jews from the synagogue.

The epistle itself confirms this. Paul writes (12:2) "you were of the nations." Words could not be plainer. Faith will accept them. May I affectionately entreat all who wish to cleave to God's Word, to take their stand on this divine revelation, and repudiate all attempts at reasoning to an opposite conclusion? The Corinthians were of the nations.

For the sake of those who have been involved in the reasonings which seek to show that the Corinthians were Jews we will briefly examine the question and seek to show that its deductions are mentally unsound. Paul says that "our fathers all were under the cloud." This is taken as proof that the ancestors of the Corinthians were with Moses, hence Jews. Had he written your fathers, there would be no question but that the Corinthians were meant. But he said our, which grammatically excludes them, and, if it proves anything, proves the opposite, that the Corinthians were not Jews. This will be more clearly apparent from a few examples of the same form of this word in the Corinthian epistles:

Some occurrences of heemoon, OF-US, in Corinthians

1 Cor.  4: 8 you reign apart from us
          10: 1 our fathers all were under the cloud
          15:14 our heralding is for naught
2 Cor.  1: 7 our expectation is confirmed over you
              : 8 ignorant...concerning our affliction
              :11 you also assisting together by a petition for us.
              :12 our boasting...our conscience
              :14 we are your glory (even as you are ours)
              :18 our word toward you

These examples should show conclusively that the pronoun of the first person plural us, our refers primarily to the writers or speakers, and not to those addressed. This can be seen clearly in Ephesians 1:3-12, where the apostle does not include the nations until, in the thirteenth verse, he brings them in by saying "you also."

The confusion has arisen from the fact that a writer or speaker may include those he addresses when using our. Thus I can say to my English readers that we are working on our German version, and he will not feel that he is included. But if I refer to "our Authorized Version " all English-speaking readers will feel that they are included. It is most unwise to reason from such shifting premises. Paul often used our in this inclusive sense, as our Lord, our God, our admonition (10:11). Appeal to one set of passages and you can "prove" that the Corinthians were not Jews. Yet if you bring up the others, you can "prove" that they were.

Again we earnestly and lovingly entreat all who love the Word of God to take a firm stand against the misleading method of making this or that "Jewish" because of the way in which the nations are spoken of. Paul can speak of the nations when writing to them. Here are a few passages from Romans, in which the apostle plainly says, "I am saying to you, the nations" (Rom.11:13), which, according to this method "prove" that Romans was written to the Jews.

Rom.    2:14 whenever they of the nations, having no law
              :24 the name of God is blasphemed among the nations
            9:30 the nations who are not pursuing
          11:11 their offense is salvation to the nations
              :12 their discomfiture the nations' riches
1 Cor.  5: 1 is not even being named among the nations
          10:20 that which the nations are sacrificing

"Dividing" based on such false premises has led to the mutilation of the Scriptures. A sane and sober faith will believe the plain statements on this theme and avoid extremes. Both Jews and gentiles were in Corinth, but the nations predominated to such an extent that the apostle can ignore the Jews when he says "you were of the nations" (1 Cor.12:2).

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