the weblog of Alan Knox

The church in Corinth…

Posted by on Jun 1, 2007 in definition, scripture | 19 comments

Thanks to a comment on my post called “Autonomous churches…” I have been studying and meditating on 1 Corinthians 1:2. To begin with, I was hoping to better understand and explain the phrase found at the end of verse 2: “together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours” (ESV).

However, as I was studying this verse, I learned something new about the first half of verse 2. I always love to turn to Scripture. God always (well, almost always) teaches me something new, and usually, he teaches me something that is unexpected. Now, I’m not saying that this is new and ground-breaking. In fact, I’m sure that most people who have studied this verse already know this. But, I’m excited about it, and it’s my blog, so I’m going to write about it.

In 1 Corinthians 1:1, Paul introduces himself as the author of this letter:

Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes (1 Corinthians 1:1 ESV)

Then, in verse 2, Paul names the recipients of this letter:

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints… (1 Corinthians 1:2a ESV)

(Note: I did not include the last half of verse 2, because it is listed above.) Now, 1 Corinthians, along with the other letters in the New Testament, are occasional letters. This means that they were written on a specific occasion, by a specific author, to a specific group of people. This does not mean that the letters do not apply to us. However, it does mean that we should recognize that the letters were written for a specific reason.

Paul addresses this letter to the church in Corinth. When he names the recipients, he does so using three clauses. (For those of you interested in the technical details, Paul uses three dative clauses to describe the recipients.) These three clauses do not identify three different groups of recipients. Instead, the three clauses each further define the identity of the recipients. (Again, for those interested in the technical details, the three clauses are in apposition to one another.) Specifically, here are the three clauses:

  • To the church of God that is in Corinth
  • to those sanctified in Christ Jesus
  • [to those] called to be saints

I put the last prepositional phrase “to those” in brackets because the ESV translators decided not to include it. However, that phrase is parallel to the other two.

With these three phrases, Paul is telling us something important about the church in Corinth. What is he saying? The church in Corinth is the same as those who have been sanctified (“set apart”) in Christ Jesus, and the church in Corinth is the same as those who have been called saints (“holy ones”). (Note: Since this is an occasional letter, it is probably best to read the phrase “that is in Corinth” as modifying each of the three phrases. Thus, Paul is not writing to all those sanctified in Christ Jesus, but to those sanctified in Christ Jesus that are in Corinth.)

So, what/who is the church in Corinth? The church in Corinth is the same as those who have been sanctified by Christ Jesus and are now saints (“holy ones”). Thus, those who belong to Christ that are in Corinth are part of the church that is in Corinth. The church is not a subsection of believers in Corinth. Instead, the church is made up of all of the believers that are in Corinth.

Again, this is not an earth shattering break-through. However, it may be interesting to wonder how God sees the church in your city. Does he see splintered groups, or, like in Corinth, does he recognize the church in your city as made up of those whom Christ has sanctified and called holy?


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 6-1-2007

    Gordon Fee has some great observations about this passage…I’ve been reading through his commentary on 1 Corinthians (yes I do read things other than Ephesians). He points out that Paul’s words point more to whom the Corinthians ought to be, not who they are.

    “Just as Paul is an apostle by divine calling, so the Corinthian believers are to reflect God’s character. One might note in passing that this is not their strong suit; in too many ways they look far more like Corinth than they do God’s holy people in Corinth (page 35).

    Also interesting is that Fee advocates a reading of “hagios” as “God’s holy people” instead of “saints” because the latter is too often confused these days by other meanings.

  2. 6-2-2007


    Here is a quote lifted from the Baptist World Alliance web-site here:

    “The Baptist World Alliance, in conjunction with the German Union of Free Evangelical (Baptist) Churches, sponsored a Symposium on Baptist Identity and Ecclesiology in Elstal, Germany, March 21-24.

    More than 60 theologians and Baptist leaders from around the world came together to present papers and discuss the question, “Are Baptist churches autonomous?” The question proved to be relevant and current for everyone attending. After much reflection and discussion in small groups, the participants at the Symposium came up with a joint statement and items for further consideration.”

    I have been trying to read through the various papers presented at this symposium, which are linked here. I may eventually post some response to some of this on my own blog. But I am not sure if it will be anytime soon, as I am afraid I may be in “over my head” and end up writing something I might later regret, and want to retract.

    In any case, I don’t know to what degree you may be interested in how this whole question relates to Baptist history, and ecclesiology among Baptists around the world. I am certainly not in agreement with everything written in the various papers from the symposium. But, there is definitely a lot of food for thought.

    If you are interested, and can find time to read through some of this, I would love to interact with you regarding your reaction to the various papers.

  3. 6-2-2007

    I believe that what Paul says is what all those believers actually are. They may not be acting like who they are, but that doesn’t change who they in reality are, as new creations, born again, having died with Christ and risen with Him. Their identity as saints, as those sanctified in Christ, is secure. Paul says to them, “you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” (1 Cor 3:23).

    But their behavior is contrary to who they actually are. Extreme example: If I get down on all fours and scratch my belly with my feet and bark at the mailman, and lead my church in that way, I’m behaving like a dog, but I’m still a human. Paul’s words to me might be, “to the church of God which is in Waterloo, to those who have been born as human beings, called to be people…”

    Paul may have to speak to them “as babes in Christ,” but that’s not because they’re not sanctified or because they’re not saints. It’s because they’re not acting as who they are. They are behaving carnally. They are sanctified saints who are behaving carnally.

    I think Paul’s admonishments are a call for them to behave as who he knows them to be.

    He knows them to be as this:

    “You are already full! You are already rich!” (1 Cor 4:8). “But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor 6:11).

    All throughout the letter Paul builds them up in who they truly are (their real identity in Christ), and he admonishes them to not behave like who they used to be, but as who they now are.

    “I do not write these things to shame you, but as my beloved children I warn you.” (1 Cor 5:14).

    I think God would find many churches to be as this church in Corinth. However, are there many churches in which those who are “spiritual” are not just telling the people of the churches that they need to “change,” but who are, more importantly in my estimation, building them up in the reality of who they have already become in Christ?

  4. 6-2-2007


    I also like Fee’s commentary on 1 Corinthians. In 1 Cor. 1:2 though, I don’t see the subjectivity that Fee suggests. Paul does not say that the Corinthians ought to be sanctified and ought to be saints, Paul says they are sanctified and they are saints. I think Paul spends the remainder of the letter reminding them that they should live in that reality. I know that I don’t always live as a new creation, but that doesn’t mean that I am not a new creation.


    I probably won’t have time to read those papers. If I have a chance to read any of them, I’ll post about it. Thanks for pointing them out. Maybe someone else will be able to review them.


    I agree. The Corinthian believers now belonged to Christ, though they appeared to be living for themselves. I think the same thing happens to believers today.


  5. 6-2-2007


    I understand. I’m not sure when I will be able to finish reading through these myself, much less write about them.

    There are some really interesting insights about how Baptists in the States have come to have such a strong view on the autonomy of the local church, though.

  6. 6-2-2007

    Getting back to the city church point, it’s finally getting to resonate with me a bit.

    One crucial element that I see in trying to bring this about in our culture is beginning to have fellowship among pastors. (At least, I hope you’re not suggesting that the city church meet as a whole under one senior pastor in a 40,000-seat stadium every week. I’m guessing not.)

    Many pastors get edgy around other pastors because it turns into a competition regarding church size, doctrine, influence, etc. I’m fortunate to be a member of a pastors’ fellowship that includes 12-15 pastors and ministry leaders from our area. It’s wildly diverse from within an evangelical perspective (Church of Christ non-inst, Conservative Baptist, Vineyard, SBC, among others). We meet for the purpose of spiritual growth, renewal and fellowship. It’s pretty amazing when it works.

  7. 6-2-2007

    David Rogers,

    Thanks for understanding. Hopefully, I will be able to read some of the papers.

    David Regier,

    I think that pastors fellowshiping together is great. Hopefully, they will encourage all believers in an area to fellowship together as well.


  8. 6-3-2007

    You write, “However, it may be interesting to wonder how God sees the church in your city. Does he see splintered groups, or, like in Corinth, does he recognize the church in your city as made up of those whom Christ has sanctified and called holy?”

    More and more I am convinced there in God’s eyes there is only ONE church per city/region. We are the ones who splintered his Body into separate groups that do not relate to one another. I believe “church” takes place on one’s local level where we interact closely with one another, but at the same time we are “church” along with everyone else in our city and need to understand all these other churches are not separate from us, but are a part of us. This is where the 5-fold ministries come to play a huge role that is all but neglected and forgotten by today’s city churches. There are some gifted a,p,e,p,t who belong to the whole city, and not just to a local gathering of believers.

    DAVID ROGERS: I would love for you to scan through these BWA papers and give us a summary of them. I would find it quite interesting!

  9. 6-4-2007


    I agree with what you’ve said here. I’m not convinced that the “5-fold ministry” listed in Eph 4:11 was intended to be over the city church – not that you’ve said that in your comment, but others have extended the 5-fold ministry to that level. I would happy if believers just started thinking of themselves as part of the church with the believers around them.


  10. 6-6-2007

    I’m not convinced that the “5-fold ministry” listed in Eph 4:11 was intended to be over the city church…”

    Not so much “over” but available to the city church…accesible to all the church rather than just a local congregation. I too have a lot of trouble with any of us being “over” anybody else. But there are certain gifted individuals who could be a huge blessing to the city church if we would let them function in this way.

  11. 6-6-2007


    I agree. I would say the mutual benefit extends beyond those gifted persons listed in Ephesians 4:11. God provides gifted people for the church – in fact, he provides all the resources that the church needs. But, what church is that? A local, exclusive group? Or the entire church in an area? I think its the whole church.


  12. 7-1-2007

    I get tired of the comparison of the noble in Berea to the lack thereof in everyone else, especially the Corinthians. (actually the noble were the Jews in the synagogues who were more noble than the Jews in the synagogues in Thessalonica)

    The focus of much of our derision of the Corinthian ecstatic abuses is in Cor 12-14. Rather than the excessive abuses of the spiritual gifts (which were there) the real problem is that the “brethern” “comely members” “important men” were not reflecting God’s holy character.

    These men were refered to as ignorant, foreigners, barbarians, idiots, unlearned and unbelievers (unbelieving-believers) Perhaps they would rather dazzle the common folk and impress them with their clear exposition of the texts. They were getting in the way of God’s edification of the body.

    The common folk had to be restrained from confusing the ignorant men. Sometimes the “learned” would witness the presence of the living God in the midst of the common people and the secrets of their hearts would be revealed and falling on their face they would confess of a truth that “God is in your midst”.

    Will this happen today with the ignorant men who rule our pulpits and pound us with their weekly noble expositions?

  13. 7-1-2007

    Charles (WatchingHISstory),

    First, I don’t think I’ve met you before, so welcome to my blog.

    Second, I’m not exactly sure what you’re saying in your comment. Perhaps you could explain it for me a different way?



  14. 7-1-2007

    It seems we treat I Cor 12-14 as though the problem is with the carnal undisciplined Corinthian believers and their abuses of the spiritual gifts.

    Rather the real problem may be the neglect of the brethern to appreciate the prophetic activity. Wouldn’t it be interesting if in the “primitive” community there were already men (brethern) who relished the glamor of expositing a text of scripture before the whole Church. They would demand the attention of the seemingly feeble, those members they thought less honorable and those members who embarrassed the community.

    Paul seems to be addressing these brethern as hinderances to the edification of the body. He uses words we consider politically incorrect. They are ignorant, barbarians, foreigners, unlearned, idiots, unbelievers (unbelieving believers).

    This is not evangelistic activity because probally sinners would not even want to be in this community nor would the community want sinners in their mist.

    The caution for order is for the ignorant not to be futher confused and that probally by chance they might sense the real presence of God in their midst rather than just the glory of their textual comprehension.

    Gladly this was a problem for the primitive community and we have graduated way beyond these problems.

    Paul says, but if a man be ignorant let him be ignorant.

  15. 7-1-2007


    Thank you for the explanation. I do believe that it is possible to put too much emphasis on expository preaching – especially as that is defined today. I think it is possible to put too much emphasis on teaching in general, and on any of the spiritual gifts.

    I don’t necessarily see this (an over emphasis on teaching) as Paul’s point in 1 Cor. 12-14. I also don’t necessarily see him saying that the Corinthians were over-emphasizing tongues. Instead, I see Paul calling for an atmosphere where all believers (and gifts) are appreciated as necessary for the growth of the body.


  16. 7-2-2007

    1 Corinthians 12
    1Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant.

    You said:
    “I see Paul calling for an atmosphere where all believers (and gifts) are appreciated as necessary for the growth of the body.”

    Well said, Alan, Paul’s emphasis is for leadership to provide scriptural regulation and order, and I over emphasised the preaching and teaching part.

    Today many pastors think that regulate and restrain means resist the flow of the Spirit. Their substitute for the flow of the Spirit is the proper exposition of Scripture. (product of dispensationalism)

    A.W. Tozer believed in his day that textualism was reigning supreme over the flow of the Spirit. The idea being “if you have a word for a thing you have the thing itself”

    1 Corinthians 13
    1Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

    The leaders themselves have to have experiential knowledge of what it means for the Spirit to flow through the body. They have to be aquainted with the needs of the “lowest” member of the body and observe the Spirit moving Himself to meet those needs.

    This experiencial knowledge is a supernatural endowment of God’s love (not human affection) for each person.

    The leadership bears the responsibility to bild up and equip the body with expectant faith that sends the members (from the least to the greatest) out to evangelize.

    Today the opposite is true. The leadership encourages everyone to bring someone to Church
    next Sunday so he will have more to preach to.

    The faith and expectancy is directed to the preacher and the worship activities.

    The Living Bible uses the term “unsaved person” in our midst as being confused and thinking that we are all mad. Rather the term unbeliever applies to a leader, or any member, who has no experiencial knowledge of God’s love and when they observe the body enjoying the ecstasy of God’s presence they say “ye are mad”.

    38But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.

    39Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues.
    40Let all things be done decently
    and in order.

    Paul says, “ye are ignorant”
    and if ye insist on being ignorant remain in ignorance.

    Paul must be assuming that God has a means of cutting such a one off.

  17. 7-10-2007

    I’m new at this blogging idea and am having a hard time learning.

    I am very interested and excited about the possibilities of God working in the body with an appreciation of the so called weaker elements of the body. I Cor 12-14

    After reading your edification series, I was thrilled at what you had written.

    A question that I have encountered is the role of women in the body. My experiences are that uninformed/informed women can make or break a Church.

    Paul’s admonition at the end of chapter 14 puzzles me. Contrary to traditional views Paul was not a chauvinist. Nor was he a feminist.

    IMO Paul was trapped by Jewish tradition and today women are trapped by dispensational chauvinist authority.

    What are your views?

  18. 7-10-2007

    Charles (WatchingHISstory),

    I agree that Paul was neither a chauvinist nor a feminist. I believe that Paul thought that female believers were indispensible to the proper functioning of the body of Christ – just as all believers are indispensible. As far as what particular roles a woman can or cannot have in the church, I’d prefer to leave that for another day.

    You said: “I am very interested and excited about the possibilities of God working in the body with an appreciation of the so called weaker elements of the body. I Cor 12-14” I can only say, “Me too!” I have seen this in part, and it is both beautiful to see in action and also encouraging to many different types of people.


  19. 7-11-2007

    I agree, I’d prefer to leave that for another day.

    However I am amazed how that present day Churches do not appreciate the necessity of the seemingly feeble members. The heirarchy is upside down and sometimes it is difficult to distinguish a Church from an Amway downline structure!

    Without informed consent believers are given new identities and belief systems. They learn a new behavior, a “theo-language” and are dependent on outside authority figures. Sounds like a cult doesn’t it?

    Paul is wholeheartedly resisting this!

    A good example of this is taken place in a well known mega-Church.

    A minister of over 30 years sodomized his son for a period of 12-18 months over 17 years ago. He roamed the halls of this church undetected and even directed the prayer ministry. This is a dispensational fundamentalist Church. I have listeneded to many conversations and read from all factions in this struggling Church.

    One thing that struck me is that there were women who knew that something was wrong with this minister but were not believed when they confided in someone. (their husbands or friends)

    The pastor was either unapproachable or else was made to be unapproachable by the mind set of many of the congregation. (Luke 12:48)

    The really sad part of this is that the son of the pedophile suffered silently for 17 years. He had no one to confide in. Heaven only knows how many were molested in this church by this man.

    Was the Holy Spirit moving in the hearts of these women to tell the leadership? We know that the Holy Spirit is not impotent to help us.
    But would the Holy Spirit purposefully not inform the leaders?

    Would the Holy Spirit purposefully absent himself inorder to suddenly appear in judgement of the leaders?

    Can a Church exist without prophetic activity? Can it forbid the Holy Spirit to work choosing to rely on self determination?

    Am I sermonizing? Why can’t I blog like everyone else?