This series of posts is about John C. Hurd, Jr., who wrote The Origin of 1 Corinthians and tried to think outside the box about that letter.
Hurd says that 1 Corinthians stands as the 4th phase of the relationship between Paul and the church he founded at Corinth. The stages are these:
Paul preaches and plants a church in Corinth
Paul writes his previous letter to the church
Information, partly in a letter and partly in oral reports, comes to Paul from Corinth
Paul responds to this information by writing 1 Corinthians
In order to understand Paul’s letter, Hurd wanted to reconstruct the information Paul got from Corinth. Hurd knew he could only partly do this. Firs t, Paul seldom tells us directly what is going on in the church. Most of the time we have to infer. Second, Paul probably misunderstood some of what was going on at Corinth. Third, the information Paul got from Chloe’s people and Stephanus’s party was influenced by the biases of these groups and may not have accurately represented the situation at Corinth.
Hurd, however, thought it was possible to get an objective look at the situation in Corinth if we isolate passages that deal with the exact wording of the letter the Corinthians sent Paul. This would be unfiltered material from the church. Six times in the letter Paul uses the phrase “now concerning”. The first time, in 1 Corinthians 7:1, the phrase clearly refers to the letter from Corinth. But Hurd thought that all the other times refer to the letter as well. These are the “now concerning” passages in 7:25 ff., 8:1 ff., 12:1 ff., 16:1 ff. and 16:12 ff.
If this is true, then the letter from the Corinthians has asked Paul about stuff they did not quite understand about about sexual ethics and marriage, food sacrificed to idols, spiritual gifts, the collection for Jerusalem, and Apollos.
The question for Hurd was whether we find actual quotes from the Corinthian’s letter. Is Paul directly quoting their letter when he uses the proposition in 7:1, “It is good for a man not to touch a woman”? What about the phrase in 8:1, “We all have knowledge”? I notice that these are in quotation marks in many modern translations.
I wonder how many casual Bible readers, though, pick up on the fact that Paul seems to quote the Corinthian’s letter and then to qualify, with more or less tact, the opinion of the Corinthians. So if you say the Bible says we all have knowledge, you are not so much quoting the Bible as the opinion of the Corinthian Church. The word of God here is not in the proposition so much as in the dialog and Paul’s response. Another flaw in the proof-text method!
Anyway, for Hurd the first step was to isolate those passages in 1 Corinthians which have the best chance of containing portions of the written questions from the Corinthian church.
Paul had heard by oral report about other problems at Corinth. There were factions (1:10-4:21). The thing to note here is that Paul doesn’t have a discussion with the church about this, he takes the position of a stern father and, in effect, says, “Don’t make me come up there” (4:21).
There was the case of the man who had married his father’s wife (1 Cor. 5). Paul’s information was not only about this behavior, but the Corinthians boasting about it. Paul is the stern, even angry, father about this. However, he does fall back to explain his previous letter, (5:9-13). Whether that the church misunderstood his previous letter came from oral informants or the letter from the church, we do not know. Paul’s response reflects more the way Paul dealt with questions in the letter.
There was also the abuse of the Lord’s Supper. In 11:18, Paul says he has “heard” about this, so it came from the oral informants even though it is in the part of 1 Corinthians where Paul mostly deals with the written questions. Paul’s stern-father way of dealing with this is also characteristic of the way he deals with the oral information.
So we have an important division in 1 Corinthians between, on the one hand, Paul’s firm and rather angry way of dealing with what he has heard is going on at Corinth, and, on the other hand, Paul’s more reasoned and, I would say, rabbinic way of dealing with the questions written by the Corinthians.