Lesson Three – Satan’s False Apostles

Satan’s False Apostles


The lessons in Part I have been designed to prepare us to read the Corinthian letters.  When we learn to read the letters and other biblical literature we move from the dependent stage of divine learning to a more independent level of study and understanding.  Christians are disciples. We are always learning; however, as the Christians were told in the Hebrew letter, we need to make progress from basic doctrines to new spiritual levels of learning (Heb. 5:11-6:3).  Each individual should personally discern what is good and what is evil.

This is important because our conscience and mind make judgments on our “self,” based on what we believe is good and evil (Rom. 2:14, 15).  We do not want to be the person with a weak conscience
(I Cor. 8:9, 10).  Since faith comes by hearing God’s word all Christians need to set our goal to become independent in our Bible study (Rom. 10:17).  We must not remain passive learners, even though this is how we get started (I Cor. 2:4, 5; 4:14, 15).  One look at the Christian religious world is enough to know we cannot risk the salvation of our souls on another person’s biblical interpretation skills – including mine.

To become independent in our Bible studies, we will need to devote time and effort for doing historical and literary analysis.  Historical analysis means we try to understand what was going on where the letter was received.   Since literary analysis is trying to understand what the author said to the situation, we need to get the first step right in order to understand the author’s solution for the problem.  We need to know the church in Corinth was suffering with a division problem (I Cor. 1:10-12).  However, it is not enough to know they were not “perfectly united in mind and thought,” we need to know why.  Then we will want to listen to Paul try to put it back together again.

He had worked a year and a half as a co-church builder with Jesus with the cooperation of the Holy Spirit.  They built it so God could have a temple in Corinth in which to dwell by the Holy Spirit
(I Cor. 3:16, 17).  Some people from Chloe’s household came to Ephesus where Paul was preaching and teaching and informed him the church of God in Corinth was dividing.  To Jesus and Paul this would mean the temple of God in Corinth was endangered.  Paul was Jesus’ apostle on the scene.  He must not fail.  Paul’s first effort to turn things around was to write a series of letters.  We will need to form our hypothesis about why this division happened.  Only then can we hope to properly understand the Corinthian letters.

Yes, we can learn many theological and ethical teachings if we choose not to do historical analysis. However, Paul has imbedded what Bible students need to know about theology, ethic and the Christian practice in “what he said to this problem.”  We can never be sure we have understood these three entities unless we form a valid hypothesis about the cause of the problem the writer is seeking to solve.  Christians need to understand and have faith in theology, Christian ethics and practices.  This is what we glean from our Bible study.  Since God has imbedded all three in the letters, stories and other types of biblical literature, our disciplined study is the only way we can get at it.  God has placed what we need to know about these three most important spiritual blessings in “real life” scenarios (II Tim. 3:16, 17).

The Christian religious world has been divided by “the wisdom of men.”  We can be of “one mind and heart” when we understand the wisdom of God in Christ (I Cor. 1:10, 20, 21).   Our present world problem is the very same situation Paul worked to solve in his letters to the Corinthians.  Obviously, the problem did not go away.  This is one reason Christians need to understand the Corinthian letters.  We will want to accept Paul’s solution because he was guided by the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 2:10-13).   The wisdom of God always takes precedent over man’s wisdom.  The use of man’s wisdom becomes evident when Christians learn a few biblical concepts and begin boasting about our knowledge.  “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”  I Cor. 8:1.  This is the essence of these letters.

Division in the so called churches will never cease because Satan and people who want to “boast” about their wisdom will not go away.  The only way Christians, personally, can avoid religious division is by learning to read the Bible, independently.  There are four minimal principles for reading a letter: We will need to do good historical and literary analysis; We will need to follow the train of thought of the writer; We must know what the recipients were taught by Paul during the time he laid the foundation for the church of God in Corinth (I Cor. 3:10).

He will explain some doctrines the Corinthians later misunderstood such as the resurrection of the dead.  We will need to learn other doctrines he merely mentioned.  In many cases Paul mentioned a doctrine he assumed the recipients knew; consequently, he did not explain the theology, ethic or practice in his letter.  For instance, if a reader does not understand what Paul assumed the Corinthian Christians knew when he asked, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” – He or she will need to do their homework.  They will need to study other scriptures to “catch up” with what the recipients knew.

Because the Corinthian letters also have qualities of a story we will need to identify the protagonist and those who were on his side.  We will need to identify the antagonist and identify the people Satan was using to “trip up” the disciples of the protagonist.  This is the aim of this lesson.


The Apostle Paul used what may be called a “technical word” to help us determine who is on Satan’s side and who is on the Lord’s side in the story element of these letters.  The word is “boasting.”  The Greek word is “kauchaomai.”  It also has been translated glory or glorying.  Note how Paul used this word over and over until it became a powerful tool for making his arguments.  It came to have more significance than the casual usage of the word.  Paul could have “picked up” on this word from Jeremiah because of the Jewish opposition in Corinth.   We may have been introduced to these Jews in Acts 18:5-17.  These “Jews who opposed Paul and became abusive” may have been some of Satan’s false apostles working behind the scenes to “divide and conquer” the Corinthian church.  Jews would understand Paul’s quote from the Prophet, Jeremiah, was for their ears.

This is what the Lord says:  ‘Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this:  that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,’ declares the Lord.  Jeremiah 9:23, 24

Immediately after Paul got into the body of the I Corinthian letter he let the church know he knew they were dividing.  He knew this was a problem that must be solved.  They were dividing around those who may have been known as exceptional teachers and leaders.  There is no record of Peter having taught in Corinth but his name would have been known.  Apollos followed Paul to Corinth.  He had an impressive manner of speaking (Acts 18:27, 28).  Some members of the church wanted to make more of these people than “mere men.”  Paul asked, “What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul?  Only servants, through whom you came to believe – as the Lord has assigned to each his task.”  I Cor. 3:5.  People have a tendency to seek out a person they want to believe has some unusual inspiration from God.  Some religious leaders “feather their bed” with these kinds of people (II Cor. 11:19-21; 12:17, 18).

Paul was truly qualified as a person with unusual inspiration; however, he made it very clear that what he had taught in Corinth was given to him from God by the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 2:3-5, 10-13).  He preached Christ to the Corinthians and they had come into Christ by their new birth – baptism was the final process.  They had been “outsiders” but now they were inside the body of Christ (I Cor. 5:12, 13; 12:12-14).  Because they were “in Christ” they had been the recipients of the wisdom of God which was, by grace, their “righteousness, holiness and redemption.”  I Cor. 1:30.  Therefore, Paul posed these questions “Is Christ divided?  Was Paul crucified for you?  Were you baptized into the name of Paul?”  I Cor. 1:13.  These are rhetorical questions.  This meant they knew the answers – if they would just think.  Thinking is necessary for learning.  Learning is necessary for healthy thinking.  Paul will make literary use of rhetorical questions in these letters.  He thought the Corinthians knew better than what they were doing.  He thought they knew him better than the way they were relating to him; consequently, he appealed to their consciences (II Cor. 4:2; 5:11).  Did their conscience approve of how they were treating him?

Note how Paul began to build on his technical word – “Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.’”  I Cor. 1:31.  He will make use of the word “boast,” or some form of it, more than two dozen times in his letters to drive his arguments forward.  This is why we need to pay attention to the word.  It becomes a part of his style.  He will often connect his “train of thought” to “boasting.”

His next application of the technical word was to this “babe in christ” Gentile dominated church.  “Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.”  I Cor. 1:26.  This was all right because Paul had taught the secret wisdom of God to them and lived it before them for a long period of time for their glory (I Cor. 2:4, 5, 7, 16; 4:14-16).  Even though they had been pagans who worshiped idols they had been given spiritual gifts in order to carry on as a church in Paul’s absence (I Cor. 12:1-11).  Paul admonished, “Brothers, stop thinking like children.  In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.” I Cor. 14:20.  These young Christians were not evil but they did need to grow up.  At the time Paul wrote it appears they had begun to act like they had acquired their new knowledge and wisdom by their own skills.  Read I Cor. 4:6-8, 18-21.  Note the line, “And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?”  v. 7.   Paul uses the term “boast” in the following scripture to summarize the situation and to push his argument about the wisdom of God:

Do not deceive yourselves.  If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a “fool” so that he may become wise.  For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.  As it is written: ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness;’ and again, ‘The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.’  So then, no more boasting about men!   I Cor. 3:18-21

Ah! The cause of division – boasting about men.  Also, the church was harboring an immoral member but instead of disciplining him, they were boasting (I Cor. 5:6).  Paul applied “boasting” to himself in the context of financial support and the preaching of the gospel (I Cor. 9:15-17).  The remainder of I Corinthians was dedicated to various issues.

Somebody was preaching that Jesus Christ had not been raised from the dead (I Cor. 15:12).  Of course, a Jew who did not accept Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ could not accept His resurrection from the dead.  We need to find out who is agitating against what Paul taught.  We can know the answer from our study of II Corinthians.

Paul again takes up the use of “boasting” as he engages the church members in some heavy drama about their relationship with him.  In this letter he will apply boasting to himself and others in a good way.  He will even apply boasting to himself in a foolish manner, but in the end he will charge the antagonist with measuring themselves by themselves in order to boast.  See II Cor. 1:12, 14; 5:12; 7:14; 8:24; 9:2, 4; II Cor. 10:8, 13-17; 11:10, 12, 16, 18, 21, 30; 12:1, 5.  He finally showed them, and us, about what those who preach and teach the gospel should boast.

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.  II Cor. 12:9, 10

The false apostles were picking on minor issues to discredit Paul.  It appears they were trying to do to Paul’s work what the Pharisees tried to do to Jesus while He preached the kingdom of God.  Jesus had taken away their disciples and they wanted them back at all costs.  Their trick was to discredit the protagonist.  Paul had dealt with a similar situation in the Galatian churches (Gal. 4:17-20).  Perhaps, they were the same kind of people.  After Paul dealt with what should have been minor issues in II Corinthians, he clearly identified some evil people who were working behind the scenes.  These false apostles may have been using the weaknesses of the people he addressed as “you” in the last four chapters.  See the following chart.

The “you” people in the chart were the church.  Paul forcefully set forth what he had done as an apostle under the pronoun “we.”  He obviously did not consider the “they” group as a part of the “you” group.  A careful consideration of the following chart should help us complete our historical analysis.  We need to understand how these “false apostles” could have been using some arrogant Gentile members of the Lord’s church to discredit Paul and his teachings.  In our literary analysis, we may be able to identify them as envious Jews.  Some may have presented themselves as members of the church but Paul did not have this view of them. 

In our next lesson we will attempt to summarize the historical analysis we have done in this lesson.  Once we form our hypothesis about what was going on in Corinth that influenced Paul to write these letters, we will want to understand what he said to the situation.  This will be our literary analysis.

Questions for Discussion

  1. What are some of the dangers in remaining a dependent Bible reader?
  2. Describe a weak conscience.
  3. What is the aim of historical analysis?
  4. What are the dangers in foregoing historical analysis before we look for the meaning of a scripture?
  5. What was critical about the Apostle Paul’s position after Chloe’s household informed him about the division in the Corinthian church?
  6. What has God embedded in documents like the Corinthian letters that is vital for Christians’ faith?
  7. Why will the problem of division in the church never cease to be a problem?
  8. Should we accept division or do we need to be personally challenged by our own studies of the Bible?
  9. In what sense do the Corinthian letters need to be read as stories?
  10. What was the word Paul developed as what might be called a “technical word?”  What is the value of a word like this?
  11. Explain the basis for the four divisions in the Corinthian church.
  12. What was Paul talking about when he asked, “And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?”
  13. What was the heavy drama about in II Corinthians?
  14. How does the separation of the last four chapters of II Corinthians into “You, We, They” categories help with our historical analysis?
  15. Describe the possible false prophets’ method of operation.
  16. Why do we need to do literary analysis?

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