In the last post I confessed my frustration understanding the Bible, especially 1 Corinthians. It's difficult because we're reading one side of a conversation, without a full description of the problem facing the Corinthian church.
So what exactly is the problem that the Apostle Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians 1-4?
Here's my best crack at it.
The problem at Corinth is that church members have divided themselves into different camps-- resulting in a petty game of who has superior knowledge. Each division is led by a skilled speaker who "represents" a Christian leader-- Paul, Apollos, Cephas, and even Jesus.
Part of the debate focuses on baptism, which explains why Paul says he's glad he didn't baptize many in Corinth. Much of the debate has to do with "wisdom," because Paul uses this term often-- many times turning the phrase against the Corinthians. And part of the problem has to do with the Corinthian church disrespecting Paul and special role God gave him as an Apostle.
Like knowledgeable football fans in our age, the people in Corinth (and Roman-Greek society) had training in what makes for good speaking. In our age, we have so many choices for entertainment-- TV, radio, I-pods, cell phones, video games, etc. But in Paul's era 2,000 years ago, public speaking and theater was the prominent entertainment of the day.
The speakers were members of the Corinthian church and had some skills in rhetoric, which explains their ability to draw a dedicated audience. These speakers were genuine Christians, yet the content of their speeches-- their nuggets of wisdom-- were taken straight from the world. It was a type of wisdom that opposed God's wisdom-- wisdom that Paul had shared via his Apostolic office. These speakers were immature in their faith, which explains the immaturity of their wisdom, looking to the world instead of God's revelation. The result of their speaking divided the church into splinter groups. Each one boasted of its peculiar wisdom. Each one thought of themselves as superior. Pride and pettiness was ruining the church.
So how does Paul appeal to the Corinthians to put aside their differences and reunite as a church? That'll be the next post.