Hurd, in The Origin of 1 Corinthians, thought that the dialog preceding 1 Corinthians went something like this:
Paul in his previous letter: I think Christians should marry as a bulwark against immorality. Don’t even associate with the immoral.
Corinthian reply: But you are not married yourself and have stated a preference for a man not touching a woman. What about divorce? What about spiritual marriages? How is it even possible to avoid contact with the immoral?
Paul in his previous letter: Do not eat idol meat.
Corinthian reply: But we know that idols are nothing and that all things are lawful. You used to eat it when you were with us. Do you mean that we can’t even buy meat in the marketplace to use at home?
Paul in his previous letter: Don’t let pagan practices influence your worship, especially don’t get carried away with unintelligible glossolalia in your worship services.
Corinthian reply: You are our prime example of someone who uses glossolalia. Without it, how is it possible to test the Spirit?
Paul in his previous letter: Don’t grieve for your dead like the pagans. Know that we will all rise with Christ.
Corinthian reply: We don’t believe in a bodily resurrection. Yuck! The idea is gross and unspiritual.
Paul in his previous letter: I am making a collection for the poor church in Jerusalem. God will be pleased if you are generous.
Corinthian reply: Ok, but we are not rich and we worry about how the money will be handled. Are you going to carry the money personally or will others share this responsibility?
Working backwards from this reconstruction, Hurd then asked what led Paul to write his previous letter. He noted that Paul seems to take positions over against himself. At least, Paul took positions in the previous letter that made him vulnerable to the charge of flip-flopping.
To the question of who had changed, Paul or the Corinthians, Hurd said that Paul seemed to be the one who changed.
So Hurd raised the idea that the Apostolic Conference of Acts 15 provides the motive for the previous letter. Outside of 1 Corinthians, the only places in the New Testament where meat sacrificed to idols gets mentioned are a couple of irrelevant passages in Revelation 2 and in Acts 15:29 and 21:25, both of which are about the decree issued at that Jerusalem conference.
There are problems (several variants) with the text of the Apostolic Decree. Hurd reviewed the discussions of the textual problems in detail. He concluded that, whatever its precise wording, the decree prohibited 1) idolatry, 2) improper diet, and 3) immorality. These all seem to be matters Paul raised in his previous letter. It is possible that this is accidental. Most scholars seem to think so. But then we are still left with the problem of what circumstances prompted Paul to change his view on several matters raised in 1 Corinthians. If Paul accepted the Apostolic Decree and sent the previous letter to enforce it upon the church at Corinth, much would be explained.
There are serious problems with this thesis of Hurd’s. I’ll get into some of that in my next post.