Back around 2004, whenever I was home from college, a friend and I started going to a home church from time to time. It was a much-needed shot in the arm, as I was going through some rough times back then and needed something fresh and personal. They practiced spiritual gifts there; in particular, I remember them praying in tongues. But I don’t remember anyone interpreting, so I remained clueless as to the meaning of the in-tongues-speakers’ mouth-noises.
The bulk of this chapter details the proper use of spiritual gifts, and its instructions are relatively uncontroversial. But near the end, just when you think we’re going to get through this one without any major issues, Paul drops this bomb on us: “The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church” (14:34-35). Why’d you have to open up that can of worms, Paul? Come on!
1 Corinthians 13, Paul’s description of love, is one of the best-known passages in the Bible. I first got wise to it in early high school. and since then it’s been a regular point of visitation in my Bible reading. For me, it’s surprisingly easy to forget the importance of love in my day-to-day life, but entirely too often I turn on that cruise control and coast through my days. But love isn’t a switch you can flip.
I’m disappointed. Paul, introducing the topic of spiritual gifts in today’s passage, says, “You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the dumb idols” (2). At least, that’s how my dad’s NASB, the brown-covered one you see in all the photographs, puts it. And I say to myself, yeah! Idols are stupid idiots! You know Paul knows his Isaiah and his Psalms. But then I turn to the NASB on Bible Gateway, and it puts it as “mute idols.” And I check the Greek, and sure enough, the word indicates an inability to speak, not moronicity. The word literally means “voiceless.” Which is still in the spirit of those Old Testament critiques of idolatry; wood can’t speak, gold has no spirit. But man, I thought Paul was straight-up throwing some shade at idols’ intellectual capabilities.
Honestly, I could split this chapter into three separate entries. Between gender roles, church divisions, and communion, Paul covers a broad swath of topics here. But if I looked into cultural contexts, Greek language, commentaries and interpretations, church tradition, practical application, and even further angles, I could write multiple entries on each of the topics Paul’s dealing with in this chapter, or in any chapter. And here’s the thing about All the Paul: there is a lot of Paul.
Each weekday, I try to get into the day’s passage, dig something up and bring it back out for you. I’m having a hard time of it today. But that’s on me, not on the passage. Paul’s talking about Moses and the Exodus and the Israelites’ wilderness wanderings as a metaphorical lesson for the Corinthian church, and he’s back on the idolatry thing, this time saying that meat sacrificed to idols is actually sacrificed in the service of demons. There’s no shortage of stuff to dig into here. But it’s easier to watch some dude speedrun all of Super Mario All-Stars on Youtube than to get out the exegetical shovel and figure out what Paul’s trying to get across here.
Here, at the end of the chapter, is another of Paul’s well-known metaphors, in which the Christian life is represented as a race or athletic contest. It requires discipline and long-term commitment, both training and grit, more than just a quick sinner’s prayer to use as a get-out-of-hell-free card. And I could easily skip right to Paul’s running metaphor and offer a few inspiring words of encouragement–the sort of thing you’ve heard before. But when I look at the metaphor in the context of the whole chapter, I’m faced with a question: why is Paul saying this stuff to the Corinthian church in the first place?