First Corinthians 13-16: Prophecy, women, resurrection

It is better to prophecy than to speak in tongues. If you prophecy, other people can benefit; if you speak in tongues, only you benefit. Pursue love and strive for the spiritual gifts, especially prophecy. Let me summarize the gospel I preached to you: Christ died for our sins in accordance with scripture, and was resurrected on the 3rd day; he appeared to many people, including Peter, the twelve, and last of all me. How can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead, when Christ was raised from the dead? No, Christ is the first fruits of the resurrection. Believers will be raised at his coming, following which “the end” will come, when God subjects all things under his feet: rulers, death itself, and even the Son. The dead are buried as physical bodies, but raised as spiritual bodies; these spiritual bodies are not flesh and blood, and are imperishable.

Please set aside money for me to take to the Jerusalem church. I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, then visit you after passing through Macedonia. If Timothy comes, receive him and send him on his way. I urged Apollos to visit you, but he is not willing as of yet. Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong.

Commentary:

Paul believes Christ is the “first fruits” of the resurrection.  After a farmer collects the first fruits of his harvest, he goes back the next day to collect the rest.  Similarly, after God resurrected Jesus, the rest of the dead are soon to follow.  Paul thinks the dead will be raised as spiritual bodies.  The Greek word translated “spiritual” is pneuma, often used to refer to the “breath of life”.  It implies some sort of material substance, despite the connotations of the English word “spiritual”.

1 Corinthians 14:34-36 is a famous passage:

(As in all the churches of the saints, women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says.  If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only ones it has reached?)

This passage is probably a later insertion by a scribe, and not part of Paul’s original letter.  There are several pieces of evidence supporting this:

  • It contradicts 11:5, which says women who prophesy should cover their heads.  I discuss 11:5 here.
  • Paul mentions many women in his other letters, such as the deacon Phoebe (Romans 16:1) and the apostle Junia (16:7).  It is hard to imagine that they kept silent in churches.
  • It contains a distinctly non-Pauline appeal to the law
  • It disrupts the flow of the argument, which is about prophecy, not about women
  • The passage is found after verse 40 (at the end of chapter 15) in some manuscripts.  This would happen if someone wrote the passage in the margins of a manuscript, and two different scribes copied it.  One copied it after verse 33, and another copied it after verse 40.
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