I am finishing up my summary and interaction with The Origin of 1 Corinthians by John C. Hurd, Jr. I have used the past tense when speaking of Hurd, because I first read this work back in the 1970s. However, some readers might think I mean that John Hurd is no longer living. I believe he is still living. Here is a short biography.
As my posts have shown, Hurd moved backwards in his argument. He treated 1 Corinthians as the final stage (of course 2 Corinthians or some part of it would actually be the final stage, but he is not dealing with 2 Corinthians) of a process of dialog between Paul and the a church he had founded. The letter from Corinth is the immediately prior stage and he tried to reconstruct that. But to do so he has to go behind that and at least make an educated guess about the contents of Paul’s previous letter to Corinth.
There is one stage even before that and Hurd finished up by discussing that. This first stage is what Paul preached when he founded the church.
Paul apparently had originated some of the Corinthian slogans. Paul had apparently said, “It is good for a man not to touch a woman”. He had apparently said, “All things are lawful.” He had apparently said, “We all have knowledge.”
But in what context had he said these things?
According to Hurd, the context was apocalyptic enthusiasm. Paul had preached at Corinth the immediacy of the return of Christ. He cites these verses from 1 Corinthians 6:
v. 2 Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?
v. 3 Do you not know that we are to judge angels?
v. 9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?
The do-you-not-know formula points to teaching that Paul had originally given them. He seems to have painted a detailed picture of the Last Judgment. The faithful at Corinth will participate in the Last Judgment. Perhaps this was the context of Paul’s statement that “we have all knowledge.” We know what we need to know to judge the world and even angels. This would remove the statement from a protognostic world-view, which some think is its background.
This apocalyptic context helps make sense of Paul statements about sex and marriage. The immediacy of the return of Christ meant that establishing a family and raising children was not in view. Paul urged those who were single to stay that way. For those who were married, Hurd argued, Paul thought they should take a vow to refrain from sex and have a spiritual marriage.
The gospel tradition from both Mark and Q contains statements from Jesus that in the day of the Son of Man marrying and giving in marriage will cease (Luke 17:26-27) and Mark 12:24-25 adds that is this respect in the new age they will be “like the angels in heaven.” So Paul may have encouraged a withdrawal from sexuality in anticipation of the end of sex that was going to become a reality any day now. In this context he may have said that it is better not to touch a women.
This was part of a general enthusiasm that included the idea that all things are lawful and the unrestrained practice of speaking in tongues.
Hurd thought that in Paul’s original preaching there had been no teaching about the resurrection of the body. There would not be enough time for anybody to die. We would all instantly become “like angels.”
To me this is a very attractive way of making sense of what happened. It caused me to go back and look at what Paul said about the resurrection in 1 Thessalonians 4:13 ff. There Paul teaches an equivalence between the resurrection of those who have died and the transformation of those who remain alive at the return of Christ. In other words he seems to say that his original teaching about what happens to us is unchanged by the fact of death. Some have unexpectedly died prior to the end, but it doesn’t matter. In either case, we will be with the Lord.
On my understanding of the Paul’s chronology, 1 Thessalonians and Paul’s original preaching at Corinth happen very close together, so what Paul taught at Corinth should not vary much from what he said in 1 Thessalonians. Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians from Athens (1 Thessalonians 3:1 and 5), which was his stop before he came to Corinth according to Acts 17. However, Paul may have gone back and forth between Athens and Corinth for a while.
So, although Hurd came close to the truth and his main insights are valid, he may have painted Paul’s preaching at Corinth as a little more radical than it was. But the process of dialog with Corinth does show Paul’s thought developing and adapting.
This process of development within Paul’s letter-writing period was Hurd’s main point.
There are things that I still need to think about.
Was the development of Paul’s thought positive or negative? Hurd seemed to think it was negative. At one place he called Paul’s support for abstaining from idol meat the endorsement of a taboo. I would say that is a misconstruing of Jewish food law. But Paul’s view of women in 1 Corinthians does seem a step back from the neither-male-nor-female-in-Christ position of Galatians. And it does seem to begin a trajectory toward the gender-roles assigned in the Pastoral Letters and the all-male clergy that eventually developed.
On the other hand, it does not seem to me that stepping back from apocalyptic enthusiasm was a negative. Paul was adapting to reality. That he did so in such a complicated and sometimes hard-to-follow way may be a negative. Still, at bottom he seemed to be arguing that we always need to take other people into consideration. His more excellent way was the way of love.
This post had gotten really long as in the rough draft. I have some material I will share in another post about the Apostolic Decree and what it might mean for Christians today.