Friday Facts: Lectionary A – The Second Sunday after Epiphany

Friday Facts is a  weekly feature here on Trout and Cast Iron. Every week, I’ll read through the lectionary texts for the following Sunday in their original Hebrew and Greek. On Friday, I’ll choose one of the texts, provide a new translation, and highlight one point of interest from a linguistic, ancient history, or concordance point of view. The hope is that Friday Facts can provide a spark to preachers who find themselves preparing their Sunday sermon on a short schedule. 

1 Corinthians 1.1-9

1 Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God and Sosthenes, his brother [in Christ] 2 to the church of God, the one in Corinth, to the ones sanctified by Jesus, to the ones called holy, with everyone who calls upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, in all places, both there and here among us. 3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 I give thanks to my God always concerning you, on account of God’s grace given to you in Christ Jesus 5 because in him you have grown rich in everything, in every word and all knowledge. 6 Thus, the witness of Christ in confirmed in you, 7 so that you do not lack any gift , having received the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who also sustains you, without fault, until the end, the day of our Lord Jesus. 9 God, through whom you were called into the community of His son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, is faithful.

We have here the greeting from another ancient letter, and it resembles the greeting from Paul’s letter to the Romans, which I reflected upon a few weeks ago. Paul employs a similar vocabulary to describe himself and the church at Corinth as in Romans 1.1-7, and if you’re interested in either his word choice or the genre of ancient letters, I’d refer you back to that post, which you can find here.

In dealing with the Corinthians, I’d like to take a little time to talk about Paul’s greeting in context of his entire first letter. Paul paints the Corinthians in glowing terms. According to him, they are “sanctified by Jesus,” “holy,” “rich in everything,” “without fault,” etc. If the letter ended here, you’d think that the Corinthians have the whole church thing figured out. Taken in isolation, you might even think that Paul’s praise indicates that the Corinthians present the perfect model for modern Christians to emulate.

Then comes the rest of the letter. According to Paul, among other things, the people of the Corinthian church are split by factions (1.10-11), “filled with self importance” (4.18), sexually immoral (5.1), suing each other in court (6.1), and defrauding each other (6.8).  Paul even goes so far as to say that the Corinthians’ church service “do more harm than good” (11.17)! So, what gives? How can Paul open his letter with glowing tones and then go on to list the manifest faults of the Corinthians? I believe that this contrast presents a perfect opportunity to talk about Forensic versus Transformative Justification. To vastly oversimplify: in the transformative view, justification changes a person’s inner being. Once that being has been changed, the person then goes on to do good things. In the forensic view, justification happens by declaration. God declares the sinner to be righteous, without any change in their essential being.

It is quite obvious from this passage, that the Corinthians have not been transformed much at all by the gospel of Jesus Christ. They continue to squabble, cheat, and sin. And yet, Paul is confident that God has called them “holy.” To use Martin Luther’s terminology, we have here an example of people who are simul iustus et peccator. Justified by God’s word, sinners by their own action. In other words, it will take something other than the Corinthians good behavior to bring them “without fault” to the last day.