Lesson Four – A Summary of Historical Analysis

A Summary of Historical Analysis


In this lesson we will first summarize what we have learned about what was going on in Corinth when Paul wrote the series of Corinthian letters.  Then we will look for the remaining historical data that will help us fill out our hypothesis about the condition of the church in Corinth.  In Part II we will do our literary analysis.  That is, we will try to understand, in a broad sense, what Paul said to the situation.  We can appreciate the importance of a valid argument for our historical analysis.  We must be ready to uphold our analysis from the scriptures in order to give validity to our work.

It is not necessary to leave the Bible to do this work.  For instance, it will be helpful to get acquainted with the Pharisees by a study of the Gospels.   Information about the Galatian problem will enhance our view of how some Jews worked to disturb the new churches of Christ.  It will be necessary to study Acts chapters eighteen through twenty.  However, the letters themselves will reveal what we must know to form a valid hypothesis about why Paul wrote the Corinthian letters.  Commentaries and other aids may be useful, but only after we have formed our own hypothesis.

The reason denominations, the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches exist century after century is because their followers read, or listen, to the commentaries left to them by the foregoing generation of preachers and teachers.  Otherwise, they would not know about the existence of these churches and their variety of non-biblical doctrines. Paul’s appeal to the church of God was “that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.”  I Cor. 1:10.  The present, quote, “Christian religious clergy” has decided this is impossible; however, theirs is the wisdom of man (I Cor. 3:18-20).  Who would dare to try to divide the kingdom of God, other than Satan?

We are all prone to make our study of God’s word say what we already believe it says.  Students of science know this approach is detrimental to the learning process.  The reason we need to apply biblical interpretation principles to our study of God’s word is to protect ourselves from making the scriptures say what we already believe.  Christians are disciples of Christ.  We don’t want to become disciples of ourselves – or other people.  The main reason Paul wrote these letters was to prevent the Corinthian Christians from becoming disciples of Paul, Apollos or Cephas – or of any other man or woman (I Cor. 1:12).  Christians become disciples of Christ by our study of God’s word that was given to Paul and others by the Holy Spirit (Luke 14:26, 27, 33; Gal. 1:6-10).

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. 3:19-21


Let us begin this summarization with another look at the vast amount of information we gathered from the last four chapters of Paul’s fourth letter- the one called II Corinthians.  Please review the three columns entitled “You, We and They” from the previous lesson.  Paul directed his remarks to the “you” group of people.  He often referred to a “they” group that he identified as “some people.”  We will want to keep the “they group” in mind as a part of the scenario Paul is addressing in his letters.  They did not just appear as he wrote the last letter.  They were there when Paul wrote the first letter.  The “they” group appears to have claimed to be a part of the church in Corinth.  Some claimed to possess the same power of apostleship Paul had received (II Cor. 11:12-15).  Paul clearly identified them as members of Satan’s team.  This is a positive identification and we will want to accept this as “specific information” for our historical analysis.  We collect both specific and suggestive information.  Paul’s specific statement takes precedence over what we might see as suggestive information.

Now we want to know all we can learn about the people who made up the “they” group.  They are active individuals in this Corinthian scene.  They are active; consequently, we cannot properly read these letters that have been set in an ongoing narrative unless we know who these “false apostles” are and their motives.  This will not be as simple as knowing what they claim to be.  Paul is very explicit about them masquerading as apostles for Satan.  One useful clue has been revealed to us by Paul when he asked; “Are they Hebrews? So am I.  Are they Israelites?  So am I.  Are they Abraham’s descendents?  So am I.  Are they servants of Christ?  (I am out of my mind to talk like this.)  I am more.”  II Cor. 11:22, 23.  Gentiles just would not boast about this kind of thing.  We have already mentioned that those who claimed there is no resurrection of the dead could have been Jews who did not accept Jesus as the Christ.  Of course, they could have been Gentiles caught up in some Greek philosophy, or even some who leaned to the Jewish Sadducees doctrine of no resurrection at all (Matt. 22:23; I Cor. 15:12).

However, Paul gave us some other clues that suggest these false apostles were Jews.  In I Corinthians, he carefully explained to this predominate Gentile church about the connection between Moses and Christ (I Cor. 10:1-12).  We might not give this much thought except in II Corinthians we learn the Law of Moses was, perhaps, being promoted by someone.  See II Cor. 3:12-16.  Gentiles would not likely be teaching Moses to distort or veil the gospel of Christ (II Cor. 4:1-5).  Because these false apostles were deceivers, they were capable.  There is a character similarity between these Jews and the ones in the narrative in Acts 18:6, 14-17.  In fact, we find these characteristics manifested by the self-righteous Pharisees who blasphemed Jesus, even as He performed miracles (Luke 5:21, 30; 6:7-11).

Self righteous people who want to control people as their disciples are driven by jealousy and envy (Acts 13:45).  They are not particularly interested in the welfare of their disciples (Gal. 4:17).  They “measure themselves by themselves” and then commend themselves (II Cor. 5:12).  This is their “boast.”  II Cor. 10:12, 17.  This is what they are about and a lot of this same “self righteous” behavior is evident in the religious world today.  Even those people who advertise themselves as “Christian schools” love to “make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long” now and then (Matt. 23:5).

Satan does not appear to people with horns and a forked tail.  He masquerades as an angel of light.  Paul warned that Satan’ agonists who had become the antagonists in Corinth may use the same tactics as Satan.  They masquerade as “servants of righteousness.”  II Cor. 11:15.  We will want to keep these Jews in mind as we attempt to determine why some church members in Corinth had begun to rally around men rather than Christ.  “Boasting” will play a big part in reading the Corinthian letters.  Paul offered the following challenge.

If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command.  If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored.  I Cor. 14:37, 38

We studied about the awesome task and power of an apostle in Lesson Two.  We can be more specific about the office of an apostle because of the information Paul gives us in the last four chapters of II Corinthians.  The use of the word “office” can be understood in this scripture; “And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles … .” I Cor. 12:28.  As an apostle, Paul functioned as a preacher and a teacher but the power he claimed over churches like the churches in Galatia, Corinth and others was because God appointed him.  Jesus Christ called him and sent him (I Cor. 1:1; 9:16; 11:2; I Tim. 2:5-7; II Tim. 1:11).  Apostle means “one sent” and Paul was sent.  He sent Timothy to the church in Corinth by the power of his apostleship (I Cor. 4:17; 16:10, 11).  Titus served as an ambassador between Paul, the apostle, and the church at Corinth (II Cor. 2:13; 7:6, 7; II Cor. 12:17).  Paul said, “As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker among you.” II Cor. 8:23.

Timothy and Titus did not receive power to do what they did because they were preachers.  Christians are preachers because some of us preach.  Christians are teachers because we teach.  Preaching and teaching is a function.  There is no office of a preacher as it is often made out to be.  If there is an office of the preacher, there must also be an office of the teacher.  There is an office of the elders and some elders may function as a preacher and a teacher (Acts 14:23; I Tim. 5:17).  The difference between being ordained to an office, such as Paul was, and functioning as a preacher or teacher as Paul did, must be understood in the light of the Corinthian division.  Self-ordained people, such as the false apostles, boast.  Boasting causes division.  Division was the problem Paul, the apostle, was working to correct in his letters because division is unacceptable in context with the kingdom of God (I Cor. 4:18-21).

Please review the “we” column in the chart in our previous lesson.

  1. Paul had divine power in his message and authority in his hand as an apostle to “punish every act of disobedience.”  II Cor. 10:1-8.
  2. He was appointed an apostle with the same powers as the Twelve (II Cor. 11:5; 12:11, 12).
  3. Paul planned to use his power to discipline sinners in the church on his third trip to Corinth (II Cor. 13:2).

  Paul did not use his power as a tyrant.  He wrote “This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority – authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not tearing you down.”  II Cor. 13:10.   Paul’s mission statement may have read something like the following:

  1. I will do the work of an evangelist with pride in the field God has assigned (II Cor. 10:13, 18).
  2. As the church’s faith grows we will expand our activity of evangelism (II Cor. 10:14-16).
  3. “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.  And we are ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.”  II Cor. 10:5, 6.  We understand from these three points that Paul was a co-worker with Jesus for building Jesus’ church.  Therefore, Paul’s work would be measured by the growth of the church (I Cor. 3:10).  This helps us understand the following:
    a.  “I am jealous for you with godly jealousy and I promised you to one husband, Christ.”  II Cor. 11:2.
    b.   Paul did not build up numerical membership of the church in Corinth to assure himself of financial security or personal glory (II Cor. 11:7-10).
    c.   His work was a “labor of love.”  II Cor. 11:11.
    d.   He had performed the work of an apostle in Corinth with great perseverance (II Cor. 12:12).
    e.   He gave his “all” for teaching and living truth in Corinth (II Cor. 12:15; 13:8).

Our most critical work in historical analysis will be done by getting to know the “you” group.  Please review this group in column one of the chart in our previous lesson.  What is happening in them, and with them, was what was happening in the church in Corinth.  The better we understand the church, the better we can understand what Paul wrote to “build them up.”  II Cor. 10:8.  We need this information because most of their problems are still found in churches of Christ today.  Let us consider the following characteristics of the Corinthian church members:

  1. “You are looking only on the surface of things.”  II Cor. 10:7.  “Surface thinking” people may make their judgment calls on “first impressions.”  They are impressed by how people dress and speak (II Cor. 10:10).  They love a well dressed dynamic speaker.  They may not give much thought to the essence of the speech.
  2. Their faith may have been low; consequently, their obedience was slow (II Cor. 10:6, 15).
  3. They, like Eve, had become easy prey for those who could make grand presentations with words.  They may have been caught up in the charisma of the speaker rather than the essence of the lesson (II Cor. 11:1-6).  See I Cor. 2:4, 5.
  4. They were boasting about what the world boasts (II Cor. 11:16, 18).  Like fools, they were boasting about men (I Cor. 3:21).
  5. It appears some of the Jews had impressed the church with their “degrees,” or perhaps, pedigrees (II Cor. 11:19-22).  In fact, these false apostles may have been taking the church’s money and playing the role of holy men (II Cor. 2:17).   Rather than functioning as the body of Christ they may have developed a caste system with some members bowing to the more talented and forceful members.  This may be suggested by the discourse about the value of parts in I Cor. 12:21-25.
  6. Some who Paul referred to as “you,” those with whom Paul was willing to “expend himself,” may have been:
    a.  Frightened by Paul’s letters (II Cor. 10:9).
    b.  They belittled Paul’s manner of preaching and teaching (II Cor. 11:6).
    c.  They may not have been willing to feed him (II Cor. 11:9).
    d.  Some may have felt Paul did not love them (II Cor. 11:11).
    e.  They may not have been commending him as they did the other true apostles (II Cor. 12:11).
    f.  Some may have been thinking he wanted their possessions (II Cor. 12:14).
    g.  Some may not have loved Paul (II Cor. 12:15).
    h.  Some people may have thought Paul was defending himself because, perhaps, he felt guilty (II Cor. 12:19).
    i.  Some were behaving as mere men (II Cor. 12:20; I Cor. 3:1-4).
    j.  Some, like all Christians, needed to examine themselves to see if they were in the faith (II Cor. 13:5).

There are three points of reference in this Corinthian story we will need to keep in mind as we study Paul’s letters.  One is Paul, the apostle; another is the church sanctified in Christ; then there are some false apostles “who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about.”  II Cor. 11:12.  We get this information from reading the letters.  We are told “up front” and we are clearly informed how some members were acting like mere men.  There was jealousy and quarreling about the merits of certain men (I Cor. 3:3).  They were boasting about men (I Cor. 3:21).  These are facts related to us by the author of the letters.  Many issues were brought forth; however, we must interpret all these issues with the specific facts we gathered in our historical analysis.  In these four lessons we have gathered information so we are more informed about the three groups of people.  We say “groups” because Paul preferred to classify himself with the “we” group rather than use the “I” pronoun in reference to himself.

Other pieces of historical information can be added as we follow the author’s “train of thought” through the documents.  We will do historical analysis on each segment of the letters and then fit that information into the overall picture.  Although, Paul called them “brothers,” he added “I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly – mere infants in Christ.” I Cor. 3:1.  This forewarns us about being shocked at some of their behavior.

For instance, Paul closed out the first segment, the first four chapters of I Corinthians, by asking; “What do you prefer?  Shall I come to you with a whip, or in love and a gentle spirit?”  I Cor. 4:21.  Then we learn one member had his father’s wife.  Some members were taking others before the ungodly courts and on and on.   Their weaknesses were brought to light and they were informed how to apply the wisdom of God.  We will need to approach our study of each of these issues with our historical information as the “back drop” for our interpretation.  It will help us in our contemplations about what these issues mean to us.  All Bible students are interpreters.  We want to be good ones.

From what we have learned we should be able to entertain the probability that the false apostles were using the spiritual ineptness of some of the members of the church to cause division.  This is how so called churches get started.  When we speak of denominational churches we mean they have divided according to something the members have in common.  A fruit merchant separates his fruit according to its kind.   Denominational movements are most often inspired by a charismatic person with a gift of words.  Paul explained how they think.  They need to separate in order to show they have the approval of God.

In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it.  No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. I Cor. 11:18, 19

Although churches today have accepted division as a way of life, God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the Apostle Paul did not.  Division is unacceptable by those who think of the church Jesus built as the temple of God.  No one would think of splitting the kingdom of God.  When we perceive of the kingdom of God functioning with power in the body of Christ, we can understand division is totally unacceptable.  This is the same kingdom Jesus will turn back to God with Christians in it as God’s children (I Cor. 15:24; II Cor. 6:18).  The children Jesus will turn back to God in his kingdom will be the judged church Jesus built.  Paul wrote to solve the division problem because it will not be allowed in God’s eternal kingdom (I Cor. 6:9).

Questions for Discussion

  1. What do Bible students need to form in our minds before we look outside the Bible for help with our historical analysis?
  2. Why do we need to apply biblical interpretation principles in our Bible study?
  3. What powers did some people in the “they” group of people claim they possessed?
  4. List two clues that help us identify who these people were who claimed these powers.
  5. List some of the attributes of the people Paul referred to as “them and they.”
  6. Who is the original “masquer?”
  7. What power did apostles have that no member of the church possesses today?
  8. Since today, no one has the power Paul had as an apostle, can anyone assume the rolls of Timothy and Titus as they are revealed in the Corinthian letters?
  9. What was Paul’s attitude about the power he possessed as an apostle?
  10. What was Paul’s mind set about a church?  From whose perspective did he view the church?
  11. How much did the Corinthian church pay Paul for preaching the gospel to them for one and one half years?
  12. Why is it very important to understand the “you” group from the last four chapters of II Corinthians?
  13. How does it appear that some people were able to get the “you’ group under their control?
  14. To what extent had these despots been able to “cow” some members down?
  15. How may “first impressions” have played a role in the Corinthian church’s problem?
  16. How did some members appear to relate, or view, Paul?
  17. How did Paul feel about them?
  18. Who are the people, we need to understand and keep in mind for our three “points of reference” as we study these letters?
  19. How does “spiritual growth” factor into our study of I and II Corinthians?
  20. Write a summary paragraph about the historical analysis we will want to use as a backdrop for our study of the different issues in these letters.

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