Opening Up 1 Corinthians

Book Details

Discerning Reader Editorial Review

Reviewed 02/23/2009 by Mark Tubbs.

Recommended. A brief and balanced overview of this important epistle.

How often does the average Christian open up the pages of Scripture just to be confronted with the circuitous passages of the Pentateuch, the Prophets, or the Pauline epistles? While 1 Corinthians is arguably the most practical of all Paul’s letters, potential challenges still face the reader:

•    How can we understand the cultural context of this letter?
•    Do the challenges of the first-century Corinthian Christians apply to us today?
•    What strategies can we employ to follow the seemingly disjointed line of Paul’s thoughts?
•    Which teachings are outright commands and which are guiding principles?

In this 2005 installment in Day One Publications’ “Opening Up the Bible" series, former Charlotte Chapel pastor and current itinerant minister Derek Prime has provided the average reader with a handbook to guide an exploration of this important Pauline epistle.

The most important thing to note about Prime’s handbook is the emphasis it places upon 1 Corinthians 15 as the defining chapter in the book. This is in contrast to the common conception of the chapter 13 as the sun around which all the other chapters orbit: “Chapters in the Bible do not compete for importance but no chapter is more important than 1 Corinthians 15.” Is Prime simply being contrary for contrary's sake? No, he is being Christ-centered, for chapter 15 concerns Christ’s Resurrection. In the words of John S. White, “The Gospels do not explain the Resurrection; the Resurrection explains the Gospels. Belief in the Resurrection is not an appendage to the Christian faith; it is the Christian faith.”

While it may initially seem incongruous that Paul has waited until the fifteenth chapter to pull the Corinthians back to the center, a glance back at the first and second chapters reveals that Paul has not actually waited to establish the supremacy of the once crucified and now risen Christ in his letter. The early Christocentric material of the first and second chapters and the exposition of the Resurrection in the fifteenth chapter form bookends for the intervening chapters.

Prime’s handbook begins with an overview, background and summary in which he situates Corinth in the context of Paul’s missionary journeys and provides a list of topics that Paul will address in the letter. In this section Prime identifies the reader’s quest in spelunking this labyrinthine epistle: “The thing to which to watch is the way in which Paul consistently relates every subject and problem to the centrality of the Person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ.” From this anchor point, Paul gives the Corinthians some tough love on varied subjects, including sectarianism in chapter 3, immorality in chapters 5 and 6, and marriage and singleness in chapter 7 (the chapters in the book correspond exactly to the chapters in the epistle). Chapter 11 is unequivocal that Paul’s gender teaching is by nature complementarian, but Prime generally avoids the soapbox. Presumably a cessationist himself, Prime is entirely balanced on the issue of spiritual gifts in chapters 12, 13, and 14: “we cannot be dogmatic about whether all the gifts of the Spirit were intended to be permanent.” Instead he puts the emphasis where it should rightly be: on the fruits of the Spirit. Case in point: the world-renowned “love chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13.

This little handbook is primarily a study guide – questions for further study and discussion round out each chapter – but there are plenty of devotional moments in which lines of hymns composed by Charles Wesley and Isaac Watts pop up. For the Christian just beginning to plumb the depths of this rich epistle, I highly recommend this little handbook from Day One.