Worldly Rivalries (1 Cor 1:11-12)

1 Corinthians begins with four chapters directed at reported divisions in the church. In 1:11 Paul uses the noun ἔρις (eris), quarreling or discord. This word refers to a “hot dispute” between rivals (Ciampa and Rosner, 1 Corinthians, 77). It appears in Sirach 40:9 in a list of things that will come upon the sinner: “death and bloodshed and strife and sword, calamities and famine and ruin and plague.”

This is not a football rivalry (although those can get heat up fast); it is more like standing in the lobby of the Creation Museum with a sign that says “I believe in Evolution,” or visiting Planned Parenthood wearing a pro-life t-shirt. This word describes an emotional flare-up, going beyond reasonable discourse

Greek OratorHow can the presence of “divisions” be described as “worldly?” The “divisions” seem to be over leadership: some considering Paul their authority, other Apollos, others Peter, and still others only Jesus. It is within the context of describing these divisions that Paul describes the church members as worldly.

Bruce Winter describes the Greco-Roman practice of discipleship in the second chapter of his book and finds a great deal of parallels between the disciple-teacher relationship in the culture of Corinth and the problem of divisions in the church over the authority of teachers.

Dio Chrysostom visited Corinth about A.D. 89-96.  He described the activities of the disciples of the Sophists – the professional orators who were able to command large audiences, high fees for educating youth, and often a great deal of power within the city. The skill of oration involved not only speaking skills, but also an attractive demeanor, the best orators were good looking, athletically trained men.  Orators might be employed as lawyers, gaining clients from the very highest ranks of the city. Dio Chrysostom also observed that the disciples modeled himself after his teacher, taking the imitation seriously, including style of speech, dress, and even walk.

There was extreme competition among the orators for honor and power.  The better the orator, the higher the fee, and the more disciples he will attract.  Dio complained that Corinth was filled with “wretched” sophists, many of whom were debating one another with “shouting and abuse” near the temple to Poseidon.

Disciples could be fiercely loyal to their teacher, the term used to describe a loyal student is “zealot.”  (This is not to be confused with the Jewish Zealots of the mid-60’s in Palestine.)  The teacher expected exclusive loyalty from the student, which included the defense of that teacher or the ridicule of other competing teachers.

Bruce Winter reports the story of students following a rival teacher and his disciples listening for mistakes of grammar or rhetoric (Winter, After Paul Left Corinth, 39). When the mistake was made they would ridicule that teacher as deficient. Philostratus tells the story of a teacher that was so ridiculed that he ordered his slaves to thrash the disciple that was mocking him.  The slaves actually beat the rival teacher’s disciple to death!

Obviously Christian teachers are different than an orator or philosopher. If the Corinthian Church is thinking about their Christian teachers as a Greco-Roman orator, then they are importing “worldly thinking” into the church and risk the unity of the Body of Christ. To what extent does this kind of thinking cause trouble in a modern context? While I would love to see the Beth Moore disciples go after John’s Piper’s disciples in a turf-war, I am not sure the Christian church is effected in by the world in quite the same way—or is it?

6 thoughts on “Worldly Rivalries (1 Cor 1:11-12)

  1. The members of the Corinthian church were allowing themselves to be divided by their preference in teachers–causing them to no longer be a congregation. The members of the congregation allowed “the gospel to be clouded by a zealous attachment to a personality whose rhetorical prowess they favor”, such as Apollos or Paul (TTP, 118). Longenecker and Still argue that Paul felt that the congregation had “remained ‘worldly’ and were acting like ‘mere human beings'” because of their acts of jealousy and quarreling (TTP, 119). These feelings lead them to be divided, acting somewhat like the followers of the orators described above.

  2. It is nearly impossible to be in the world and not affected by it, and although we are called to be “not of this world” (John 18:36), I think in some ways the church is effected in a similar way to that of the Corinthian church. No one want to go to a church in which the pastor is extremely dull and monotone. We would all rather listen to someone with passion and excitement for what they are talking about. Although this is not necessarily a bad thing, some people can be distracted by the way a someone speaks and the emotivism of it, rather than focusing on the words being said. As Christians, we should care far more about listening to messages with a solid Biblical message, than how the sermon is preached. Many good ‘Christian’ speakers gain a lot of attention in culture, but those are not always the people that are preaching what Christianity actually teaches. This damages Christians, as they may be led astray by what is being preached, but it also damages culture and what they think of Christianity. Just as it happened in the Corinthian church, division can happen in the modern church because of the leaders people are following. When analyzing this issue, we need to ask ourselves the same questions Paul asks the Corinthians–”Is Christ divided? Was [fill in the blank] crucified for you?” (1 Cor. 1:13). We have to remember not to emphasis what the world emphasizes over what God emphasizes, as “God’s wisdom runs against the grain of culturally constructed systems of honor” (TTP 120).

  3. The similarity of this issue in a modern context is when leadership changes. We build up our churches based on the personality of the pastor. Churches with a (former) pastor like Mark Driscoll might be different than ones with an Andy Stanley type. The fact that we even have these “types” and know what it means is another similarity. When the churches having these types of pastor, hires a new pastor the church is in an uproar. We build our churches around personality favoring one over the other. As you mentioned the people of that day went so far as to imitate their teacher. We may not imitate, but we definitely hold personality in a high esteem. 1 Corinthians 12:12 though says its one church. The idea that one personality is better doesn’t work. Its about teaching and saving.

  4. The people of Corinth seemed to be dividing themselves, with full knowledge of it happening. They did this be following different teachers. They did this by picking who they followed by different traits, the way the teacher looks, walks and talks. What about the knowledge that the teacher carries. Longenecker and Still, address and say that the congregations had remained worldly. What I get from that is that they are looking at things from the outside and what it looks like, instead of what it actually is. Things like this are happening even in our churches today. There are pastors that people will watch online instead of going to their church, just because the way they present it is more desirable to them. This can cause some separation in the church or at least the congregation.

  5. This is very similar to the church today. A few weekends ago I went to a Worship Conference directed towards praise bands in the church. The special speaker had a lot of great things to say, but what stuck with me the most was when he said that we are all from different churches who have some different (minor) beliefs, but worship the same God. Why do we separate ourselves that we are cold to each other when we all have the same end goal: to bring people to Christ? This is something that I’ve been questioning for years. During my junior year in high school, I was part of the student leadership team in my youth group @ RCBC. We wanted to plan an event for not just the high school youth group @ RCBC, but for all of the churches in Byron Center to come together, worship God through song, & have a great time together playing games & eating food. We planned far enough ahead that the youth pastors could shift their schedules if need be. We were so excited to hang out with other Christians in Byron Center, but none of the churches we invited wanted to come. Like I said before, I still don’t understand why we are so cold to each other. Will we ever learn from Paul’s teachings?

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