I Think 1 Corinthians is the Hardest Book in the Bible

Over the past half decade, my study focus in the Bible has been in the field of biblical theology, as opposed to systematic theology. In the latter, we ask a specific question about doctrine, like “What is the trinity?” or “What is baptism?” and then search all 66 books of the Bible for relevant passages. The goal of systematic theology is to say “this is what the Bible says about X.”

Biblical theology, on the other hand, asks “How do all the different, little parts of the Bible fit together into a whole?” This question (like with systematic) presupposes the divine, inerrant nature of Scripture, and as such you won’t be taught biblical theology outside of a Bible-believing church or seminary. When we do biblical theology, we are seeking to trace the common theme and unifying principal of Scripture from Genesis 1 through Revelation 22.

Well, I love biblical theology, but as I run my fingers along the whole vessel of unified Scripture, I always get splinters in 1 Corinthians. Other books and chapters of Scripture are very difficult to reconcile with the whole, but in my opinion, 1 Corinthians is in a class of its own. It seems Paul comes out with insights unique to this letter – and hard to reconcile with the whole of Scripture. This is a fearful thing for an inerrantist. (We can be honest with each other, right?)

I recently took a poll on Twitter to see if anyone else agreed with me – and although some did, the majority fell into my Revelation trap:

Of course many Christians see Revelation as the tough one – a book of riddles and puzzles. I pitted these two against one another because my theory was that most Christians do not know their Old Testament very well – and that translates into confusion about Revelation. If we know our Old Testament, and if we read Revelation keeping in mind the second-century church would have gotten direct application and comfort from Revelation, then it unravels into semi-easy, understandable interpretation.

Yet 1 Cor is a belly flop of a letter. Paul is not addressing any one issue (like in Galatians or Colossians), and he isn’t writing a splendid overview of biblical theology and gospel (like Romans and Ephesians), and he isn’t giving apostolic guidance to a stable brother in Christ (like 1-2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon), but rather he’s attempting to corral a group of borderline wackos who had asked him a basket of difficult questions.

1 Cor begins well enough – in fact, I understand and enjoy everything pretty well up to chapter 7. From there on, Paul loses me, no matter how many commentaries I consult for guidance. Check out some of these gems of biblical enigma:

Because of the angels, Paul? Really? That’s all you’ve got for me? And what do you mean about the believing spouse “sanctifying” the unbelieving spouse? And please, Paul, tell us why you had to say all that stuff about speaking in tongues – I wish you could have seen all the fallout we’re suffering because of it. Couldn’t you have clarified that all that stuff expired with the closing of the canon?

And why, brother Paul, oh why did you have to say “I, not the Lord, say…”? That one is an apologetics nightmare, my dear father and apostle.

But are these questions just mine? How about you all – does anyone out there find 1 Cor equally confusing? In case you’re still feeling strong, looking down on this poor Adam as a confused, well-meaning saint, I deliver my final blow in 1 Cor 15:29

Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?”

If you know what on earth he was talking about, I’m all yours, teacher. What’s my point in all this? I’ll be straight with you: I’m a teacher of God’s Word, I play a strong supporting role in my local church, and I teach multiple Bible studies in home meetings. When I write a post like this, it’s because I want to be vulnerable and open with my family in Christ. I want to have the credibility of admitting that this is not an easy book (the Bible as a whole), and there are some questions I cannot answer. I struggle in my faith just like anyone else, and even have days of heavy doubts at times.

I’m confessing publicly that I’m made of flesh and blood, and no matter how much confidence I have in teaching the Bible, it is still my master, and God is still its final interpreter.st-augustine No man or church can be the master of this divine library, we are forever its pupils and in submission to its wisdom.

And maybe, just maybe, I’m writing this blog post to celebrate a book like 1 Corinthians. Maybe it gives me a bit of comfort to know that “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor. 1:25 ESV). You see that? He put it right in the hardest book in the Bible – “Not everything here will appeal to your human wisdom and understanding. Not everything in My book will be fully comprehensible. That’s OK – you know the center and foundation of Scripture (Jesus and His gospel) – you can let some of it be over your head.” (No, God did not say that to me. I’m imagining that would be something like what He would say to me about 1 Cor.).

I will always try to understand 1 Cor better, but I will be content in my personal faith and in my apologetic endeavors if these things remain an enigma to me.

What about you?

Thanks for reading,

Adam

 

A Frustrating Conclusion

Recently I posted a critique of Mike Gendron and his Proclaiming the Gospel ministry (an outreach to Roman Catholics). I then emailed him to give him a fair chance to see it and to dialogue. Without much commentary from me, I will here below post our email exchange. I am doing so because I am truly mystified and frustrated with this brother.

To try to be clear, I had two goals in contacting and critiquing Mr. Gendron:

  1. Call him to account for using fallacious, sub-Christian reasoning.
  2. To ask if he could give evidence that he understands what he is attacking.

And both of these points failed to produce fruit. What I want you to see is our failure to establish even the most minimal line of understanding and communication. I’d love to get your feedback or advice in the comments – how could I have done better?

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Unnecessary Division between Us

GendronI’ve subscribed to Mike Gendron’s “Proclaiming the Gospel” email newsletter for years, until today. Mike is an ex-Roman Catholic with a focus on evangelizing his ex-brethren, and his teachings are pointed, clear, and helpful in preparing to witness to Romanists.

Although I always knew Mike to be a Dispensationalist, I looked past it to learn other things from him, as I do with excellent men like John MacArthur and others. On April 1 of this year, Mike sent out a short article in his newsletter, reposted here: Continue reading

Chalcedonian Defintion and Hypostatic Union

No Christian can believe something substantially different than the conclusions of Chalcedon and still hope he is a Christian.

Nil Nisi Verum

In A.D. 451  a large church council was convened to solve the problems raised in the controversies over the debate on the person of Christ. They met in the city of Chalcedon and a product of their meeting was the Chalcedonian Definition. This statement is considered the standard orthodox definition of the biblical teaching on the person of Christ by the Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Eastern Orthodox communions. It is brief enough to be stated here:

We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable soul and body; consubstantial with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according…

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The Sacramental Grace of Baptism

In my work of discipling fellow Baptists and evangelicals, I have the joy of often introducing them to the concept of sacramental grace. I am currently writing up a little lesson on baptism for some friends, and so I thought I would share it here. For further reading, see here and here.

baptism pool

Here are my notes:

Adam’s perspective on baptism:
  • The NT speaks of baptism as an event by which God gives a kind of grace where we are bound to Him.
  • – Acts 2:37-38 baptized for the remission of sins
  • – Matthew 28:18-20 baptism as entrance into the life of discipleship
  • – Romans 6:1-4 baptism as incorporation into the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ
  • – Colossians 2:11-14 baptism as circumcision (which was both a symbol and a reality of what it symbolized EVEN IF ADMINISTERED AFTER THE REALITY BEGAN – see Romans 4) & (notice how baptism and the gospel blend right into each other)
  • – Ephesians 4:5 one baptism
  • – Ephesians 5:26-27 washing of water with the word (cf. Titus 3:5)
  • – 1 Peter 3:21 baptism now saves you

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How can we REALLY Know that God has Spoken?

This is the text of an academic paper I recently presented at the Northeastern Seminary theology conference (Participation in God’s Mission, featuring Michael Gorman).

This paper arose from my own search for solid ground underneath the Christian faith. In other words, if Christianity is true, shouldn’t we be able to dig down to some ultimate foundational truth that cannot be undermined? The answer is…

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Revelation and Knowledge Bridged in Proverbs: the Confident Cruciform Life
The cruciform life begins, for each Christian, by the authoritative call of God. That call, which comes through hearing his word, is radical in its implications, absolute in authority, and transformative. It is predicated on the superior authority of God’s self-revelation through redemptive history. This divine authority does not confront us as first of all a proposition to be studied, or to be accepted by some degree of probability, or even as the conclusion to a complex syllogism. Notice there is no philosophical defense of the existence of God in Genesis 1:1, but rather a naked assertion of his being (“In the beginning, God. . .”). Jesus’ radical call to discipleship comes from that same assumed authority.
To heed the call, and to follow Christ is to put oneself at peril. Human nature is bent toward self-preservation, yet the example and commandments of Jesus bend us away from self toward God and others, even to the embracing of dangerous enemies. If we are to obey Jesus, forsaking even “house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands” (Mark 10:29), then we must have a solid confidence in the preeminent authority of God’s self-revelation. Continue reading