Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Corinth's Communion (part 13)

It is extremely valuable to remember and to reiterate that Paul’s letters, though thoroughly dissected and broken into smaller pieces, with theological, ecclesiastical, soteriological, and Christological premises drawn from fragments that are really not meant to be fragments at all, are intended to be viewed as a whole.  Things written and dealt with early in the letters will tend to have a bearing on what comes later, and ideas and issues presented later in the letters will generally spring from a foundation laid earlier in the letter. 

One must take all necessary precautions to avoid isolating passages and interpreting passages in isolation, without taking great pains to provide a contextual construct before doing so, especially if doing so fails to take into account the necessary historical considerations (social, political, cultural, economic, linguistic, religious, etc…).  So in proposing what appears to be a rather novel idea (to the modern observer---not so much to the original audience) of considering “the body” of verse twenty-nine of chapter eleven as a reference to the church rather than to the bread, it is possible to recognize what Paul has done earlier in the letter.     

In the sixth chapter, Paul offers a glimpse of what it is that he just might be getting at in the eleventh chapter.  There, in the midst of exhortations that are focused on the way the community of the church should ideally function (6:1-8), reflections on a primary focus of Jesus’ ministry by some always important mentions of the kingdom of God (6:8,10), and then a short digression on food, Paul writes about “the body.”  With a stunning demonstration of linguistic creativity and dexterity, Paul weaves an elaborate web of individualism and community, doing so in the context of the proper behavior of believers functioning as part of the church, as its members live and act within the world as representatives of the kingdom of Creator God. 

He writes: “The body is not for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.  Now God indeed raise the Lord and He will raise us by His power” (6:13b-14).  Here, though there is a tendency to make a merely personal application of the words concerning the body and sexual immorality, and though there is, without a doubt, a personal ethical and moral dimension to the statement, one should not dwell on the individual application to the exclusion of the corporate vision, as Paul goes on to speak about the Lord raising “us.”  With that mindset created, it is not at all difficult (though one may not yet understand how or why) to hear a reference to the body of believers in that thirteenth verse.  Continuing on in that stream of thought, Paul writes “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?” (6:15)  Here, some translations of the passage will complete what appears to be implied in the statement, reading “members of Christ’s body,” thus continuing to intertwine the personal with the communal, as this intertwining hangs upon the ever-present thread of the presence of the kingdom of Creator God. 

Building on the question that begins the fifteenth verse, Paul goes on to ask “Should I take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute?  Never!” (6:15b)  In all honesty, this seems like a strange turn, unless, that is, the larger movement of Paul’s letter is kept in mind, along with the fact that this letter from Paul was designed to be read to the gathered community, who may have been able to look around at each other and at themselves in such a way as to cause the full and stinging weight of the Apostle’s words to come crashing down upon them.  Presumably, this is what Paul may have expected. 

No comments:

Post a Comment