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Corinthian Divisions

Posted by on Mar 18, 2010 in discipleship, scripture, unity | 4 comments

In 1 Corinthians, Paul exhorts the believers in Corinth to unity:

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:10-13 ESV)

In this passage, Paul does not tell us exactly what the nature of the division is. We don’t know what caused the divisions. (Although, there may be some clues in the rest of the letter.)

Here’s the question. When the Corinthians claimed to follow Paul, Apollos, Cephas (Peter), or Christ, were they simply stating their preference for those people, or were they stating their preference for certain doctrinal distinctives represented by those people?


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  1. 3-18-2010

    I think doctrinal but more along the lines of distinctives. One may have emphasized one thing over the other. Maybe Apollos and evangelism, Paul and grace, Peter and some type of Jewishness, just a guess though.

  2. 3-18-2010

    I have always looked that passage similar to what we see today in our different camps eg, those who follow after MacArthur, Piper, Copeland, Hagin, etc. In which I see a doctrinal distinctive plus the personality distinctive. It appears to be a combination of both.

    In charismatic/word of faith circles, which I am very familiar with, there was a lot of personality distinctive’s, but not as much doctrinal distinctives.

    Whatever Paul was focusing on though, it seems to me that we would have a difficult time justifying our distinctives whatever they may be.

  3. 3-19-2010

    I think there are those who pull away disciples after themselves based on doctrines, as in Rom 16:17. These are bad guys confusing the saints. I don’t think the guys mentioned by Paul here are of that group!

    There are also those who are seeking an identification, something that sets them above others. These perhaps are better described in Titus 3:9-11 and their motivations described as the works of the flesh in the list in Gal 5:19-21 (dissensions, strife, jealousy, disputes, etc.). I think the trouble here is that the Corinthians were selfish, self-centered, and immature in the faith; very confused about the implications and applications of grace, gifts, ministry, purpose, etc.

    I think they were simply trying to elevate themselves by association, and probably propounded each of those they followed as being better than the rest in any way (whether theological points, habit, reputation, gifting, etc.).

    Our identity is a critical point of attack, because our flesh is full of pride and self-love. Faulty understandings of our identity/position feeds the flesh and breeds divisions so we can exalt ourselves above others. Paul points them back to their position and standing as he opens the letter in I Cor 1:1-9, points out the divisive state they have descended into, and then covers how the world and the flesh respond to the foundation we have I Cor 1:18-29 and how this leaves no room for the pride they were seeking by identifying with “superstars,” and ending with their state once again (I Cor 1:30, 31).

    This (oh, aren’t they all!) is a great chapter…

  4. 3-19-2010

    Lionel and Jack,

    I think I’m leaning in the same directions, i.e., there were doctrinal distinctives in the teachings of Peter, Paul, Apollos, etc.


    “Elevate by association”? Possibly. But, if the remainder of the letter is any indications, there are other distinctives (besides leadership association) between the different factions in Corinth.