A Discourse Analysis of First CorinthiansRalph Bruce Terry
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The Hortatory Distribution in the Letter

The letter as a whole may be treated as being a hortatory text, but the hortatory sections are not distributed uniformly throughout the letter. Shorter discourses, such as those on head coverings and the contribution, show hortatory sections throughout. In the same way, the chiastic discourse on marriage has commands in all three chiastic sections. The chiastic discourse on fornication and lawsuits has overt command forms only in the first and last sections on fornication. The hortatory force in the inner section on lawsuits is mitigated to rhetorical questions. With the exception of the appeals at the beginning (1:10) and end (4:16) of the first discourse, most of the hortatory forms there are found in the inner section of the second chiastic set about wisdom and division. Three discourses (the longer chiastic ones about meat offered to idols and spiritual gifts, and the shorter one about the Lord's Supper) have the hortatory section reserved until the last part of the discourse. The only hortatory material in the discourse about the resurrection are admonitions not to sin (15:33-34) and to remain steadfast (15:58). Both of these are in result sections that follow from the main point: that of believing in the resurrection of the dead. This discourse is primarily persuasive in nature rather than hortatory, and even then its call to belief is mitigated to a rhetorical question (15:12).

The Argument Summaries and Key Ideas of the Discourses

In the first discourse after beginning with an appeal for the Corinthians to be united, Paul makes two main arguments. The first is that it is human wisdom, not divine, which leads people to be puffed up and boast in men. The second is that the men they are boasting in are merely servants of God and are not to be followed themselves. Rather than saying "I belong to" some man, the Corinthians should realize that they all belong to Christ (3:22).

The key ideas of the first discourse can be summarized as follows: I appeal to you by the name of Christ that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you (1:10). In God's wisdom, the foolishness of preaching Christ crucified is wiser than the wisdom of men, so that no person might boast (1:21, 23, 25, 29). We impart a secret hidden wisdom of God revealed through the Spirit (2:7, 10). While there is jealousy and strife among you, you are fleshly, not spiritual (3:1, 3). Apollos and Paul are servants: farmers and builders for God (3:5, 6, 9, 10). The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God, so let no one boast of men, for you all belong to Christ (3:19, 21, 23). We are servants of Christ and stewards of God's mysteries (4:1). Do not be puffed up in favor of one against another or boast as if you have things you did not receive (4:6, 7).

The second discourse begins with a rebuke because one of the Corinthian Christians is living with his father's wife (probably the man's step-mother). Paul commands that the offender should be delivered to Satan. The discourse then turns to the problem created when the Corinthian Christians sued one another in public lawsuit. Paul suggests that the church should decide such disputes; otherwise, it would be better to suffer loss. Paul ends the discourse with an admonition against fornication.

The key ideas of the second discourse can be summarized as follows: Deliver the man who is living with his father's wife to Satan (5:1, 5). When one of you has a grievance against another, he should not go to law before unbelievers instead of before the saints (6:1). The unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God (6:9). Flee fornication, for our body is meant for the Lord, not for a prostitute, and we are united to the Lord by the Holy Spirit in our body (6:13, 18, 19).

The third discourse, on marriage, seems to be in answer to a couple of questions which the Corinthians had written in their letter. Paul argues that it is best for each one to stay either married or unmarried, as they were when they became Christians. He states that celibacy can lead to a more productive Christian life than marriage, but celibacy is not for everyone. Therefore it is no sin to get married.

The key ideas of the third discourse can be summarized as follows: A husband and wife should have sex with each other to avoid fornication (7:2, 3, 5). It is best for the unmarried to remain so if they can practice self-control (7:8). The Lord says a husband and wife should not separate (7:10). Everyone should remain in the state in which he was called (7:20). The unmarried should not seek marriage, but if passions are strong, let them marry; it is not a sin (7:25-26, 36).

The fourth discourse is on eating meat offered to idols. This also seems to be in answer to the Corinthians' questions. He argues first of all that one must not use his Christian liberty in such a way as to lead a weaker brother into sin. Next he discusses the right he has as an apostle to be supported by the church and how he has given up this right for the sake of the gospel, implying that the Corinthians should not insist on their rights either. In chapter 10 he argues from Old Testament examples that idolatry must not be practiced. Then he argues that a Christian cannot share in the Lord's Supper and in an idol's sacrifice also, for to do so is in fact to share in the worship of demons. He summarizes by giving specific examples which show that it is not wrong to eat meat if one does not realize that it has been sacrificed to idols.

The key ideas of the fourth discourse can be summarized as follows: Take care lest the liberty which you have because of your knowledge that an idol is nothing does not cause a weak brother to fall into sin (8:4, 9). I have not made use of my right to make a living by preaching the gospel, so that I might win people for Christ (9:14, 15, 19). Do not be idolaters, but be warned by the example of what happened to the Israelites (10:6, 7). Flee from idolatry, for when you eat food offered to idols you share with demons rather than with the table of the Lord (10:14, 20, 21). Eat meat sold in the meat market or at a friend's dinner without raising questions, unless someone says, "This has been offered in sacrifice" (10:25, 27, 28).

The fifth discourse on head coverings contains five arguments as to why women should cover their heads when they pray or prophesy and men should not. First Paul argues that Christ is the head of man and man is the head of woman. Then he argues from the creation that woman was created from and for man. His third argument ("because of the angels") is obscure, but perhaps refers to the belief that angels are present in worship. The next argument is from the lesson of nature. And his final argument is that the churches of God have no such custom as women praying bareheaded. From his use of the word "anyone" in 11:16, it would seem that the problem was not extensive.

The key ideas of the fifth discourse can be summarized as follows: A man ought not cover his head when he prays or prophesies, because to do so would dishonor Christ, while a woman ought to cover her head, lest she dishonor her man (11:4, 5, 7, 10).

The discourse on the Lord's Supper, on the other hand, deals with a more extensive problem. Here, in contrast to verse 2, Paul writes "I do not commend you." He begins with an admonition not to use the Lord's Supper as a time for satisfying hunger and thirst. He then gives an account of Jesus instituting the Lord's Supper. Next, he admonishes them to examine themselves before they eat, and closes with instructions to wait for one another and satisfy their hunger at home.

The key ideas of the sixth discourse can be summarized as follows: When you meet to eat the Lord's Supper, wait for one another, and remember the body and blood of the Lord Jesus, as He said (11:20, 24, 25, 33).

The seventh discourse is on the proper place of spiritual gifts. Paul begins with the argument that all the gifts come from the same Spirit of God. The gifts are different, but by analogy with the human body, he shows that all are needed. He next argues that love is more important than any of the spiritual gifts. Then he contrasts prophecy and speaking in tongues, and concludes with instructions regulating the use of spiritual gifts in the assembly.

The key ideas of the seventh discourse can be summarized as follows: Just as the body is one and has many members, so you are one body in Christ, with each person having gifts given by the Spirit for the common good (12:4, 7, 12, 27). Love, which remains, is greater than the spiritual gifts, which will pass away (13:8, 13). Seek spiritual gifts, especially prophecy, which is greater than speaking in tongues, because it builds up the church (14:1, 5, 12). All things should be done decently and in order, which means that those who speak in tongues without an interpreter, and women, should keep silent in the assembly (14:28, 34, 40).

The eighth discourse is on the resurrection from the dead. Some of the Corinthians were following Greek philosophy by saying that there will be no resurrection from the dead (15:12). Paul begins by arguing from the reality of Christ's resurrection. He repeats the Christian tradition that the death, burial, resurrection, and appearances of Christ are of first importance. Then he demonstrates that the resurrection of Christ is tied to the resurrection of Christians at Christ's coming. He next discusses the nature of the resurrection body. He writes of the events of the second coming and concludes with praise to God.

The key ideas of the eighth discourse can be summarized as follows: Just as Christ was raised from the dead, so at His coming all who belong to Him will be made alive (15:20, 22, 23). Unlike our physical body, the body which is raised will be imperishable, glorious, powerful, spiritual, and immortal (15:42-44, 53).

The ninth discourse concerns the contribution for the saints. In four verses he encourages the Corinthians to put some money aside every Sunday for this purpose. If the gift they collect is worthwhile, he will accompany their representatives when they take it to Jerusalem. The letter continues with travel plans for Paul and Timothy.

The key ideas of the ninth discourse can be summarized as follows: Each of you should put something aside and store it up for the contribution for the saints at Jerusalem (16:1, 2). I will come visit you after Pentecost and spend some time with you (16:5, 7, 8). Welcome Timothy and send him back to me (16:10, 11).

The final discourse is merely a statement that Apollos will not come at this time. After concluding exhortations, he commends Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus. The letter closes with greetings and a postscript in Paul's own handwriting.

The key ideas of the tenth discourse and conclusion can be summarized as follows: Apollos will come when he has an opportunity, but not now (16:12). Be subject to and acknowledge those workers who have devoted themselves to the service of the saints (16:15, 16, 18).

The Macrostructures of the Discourses

With the above argument summaries and listings of key ideas, we can now abstract a macrostructure for each of the ten discourses and the conclusion in I Corinthians. They are as follows:

Discourse 1 (1:10-4:17):

(17) I appeal to you to avoid division and strife due to following men (Paul, Apollos, and Cephas), for such boasting is due to the wisdom of men, but in God's wisdom they are servants of Christ.

Discourse 2 (4:18-6:20):

(18) Flee fornication and lawsuits with one another, and deliver an incestuous fornicator to Satan.

Discourse 3 (7:1-40):

(19) Let everyone remain in the marital status in which he was when called, but it is not a sin to get married if an unmarried person cannot control his passions.

Discourse 4 (8:1-11:1):

(20) Do not eat meat offered to idols in an idol's temple, for this is not a right but idolatry and can lead a weak brother into sin; but eat meat bought at the meat market or at a friend's dinner without asking any questions.

Discourse 5 (11:2-16):

(21) A man ought not cover his head when he prays or prophesies, but a woman should.

Discourse 6 (11:17-34):

(22) When you meet to eat the Lord's Supper, wait for one another and remember the body and blood of the Lord.

Discourse 7 (12:1-14:40):

(23) Seek spiritual gifts, especially prophecy, which builds up the church, but above all, show love.

Discourse 8 (15:1-58):

(24) Just as Christ was raised from the dead, so you should believe that Christians will be raised at His coming with a spiritual body.

Discourse 9 (16:1-11):

(25) Every Sunday let each of you put something aside and store it up for the contribution for the saints at Jerusalem. I will come after Pentecost, and Timothy will come now.

Discourse 10 (16:12):

(26) Apollos will not come now.

Conclusion (16:13-18):

(27) Be subject to and acknowledge those workers who have devoted themselves to the service of the saints.

The Macrostructure of the Fourth Discourse

Now before proceeding further, it is necessary to stop and examine the macrostructure of the fourth discourse, because alternative macrostructures have been formulated by other researchers. These alternative macrostructures focus on rights and see the question of eating food offered to idols as incidental. In 1987 Youngman suggested the following theme for I Cor. 8:1-11:1: "using the general topic of 'food' as an example, I exhort you to exercise self-control in the use of your highly-valued rights, lest you sin or cause others to sin" (121, 123). Then a few pages later he modified it to "do everything out of love for God and people; restrict the exercise of your rights for the sake of the gospel" (1987, 128). This latter macrostructure does not mention either food or idols at all. In this he was preceded by Hoopert who wrote about the same section: "this expresses a theme statement for the epistle to this point, namely, 'I exhort you, brothers, that you say "no" to your own selfish interests, and even to your own individual rights, for the sake of Christ'" (1981, 50).

Now the question is: do these generalized statements of principles correspond to a macrostructure or thesis of this section? The answer is no. For one thing, a macrostructure is a mental structure that determines the form and content of a discourse. Van Dijk (1972) originally postulated the macrostructure as a generative device for a text in an attempt to extend generative grammar from the sentence level to the discourse level. These generalized statements proposed by Hoopert and Youngman are so general that they would generate many different texts, not just this one. Second, such generalized statements omit information which is central to the fourth discourse and which cannot be retrieved from mental frames. The discourse is primarily about eating food offered to idols, and this fact cannot be recovered from the suggested macrostructures of Hoopert and Youngman. Third, the suggested macrostructures do embody a principle expounded in chapter 9 of the fourth discourse, but that principle is not the central one to the discourse. Actually, as previously noted, the discourse is working out the balance between two principles: (1) A Christian should not worship idols in any way; and (2) A Christian is allowed to eat any food if it is done with thanksgiving. But even the statement of these two principles which Paul tries to balance in the fourth discourse do not constitute the macrostructure for this discourse. The macrostructure must lay out the way in which the two principles are applied within this given text. Mere statement of the logically underlying principles does not give the macrostructure.

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