1 Corinthians 1:10-18 What’s a feud?
First Corinthians begins as most of Paul’s letters do with a greeting/salutation and thanksgiving (1 Corinthians 1:1-9). Both of these introductory matters give some hint of the issues arising in the Corinthian house churches (see my discussion on this website of 1 Corinthians 1:1-9). However, it is not until we get to I Corinthians 1:10-18 that we see and hear the fuller description of the dissensions.
Following the greeting and thanksgiving Paul begins with an appeal and not a demand. The appeal is for unity, addressing them as brothers and sisters (twice as a matter of fact), probably an effort to not just assert his authority (he did found the Corinthian house churches) but also to encourage them to think of themselves as the family of God, a group with a single purpose. The information of the quarrels has come from Chloe, who must have been a respected leader of one of the house churches either in Ephesus or Corinth. A reminder of the formative role women played in the early church.
Then Paul raises several rhetorical questions regarding the divisions. He says each group is saying they belong to some individual. It is difficult to know exactly who the groups are or much about their character. The most difficult is identifying the Christ group. The key question Paul raises is, “Has Christ been divided?” The answer is obvious to him and wants it to be obvious to the house churches in Corinth.
Paul turns to the issue of baptism. He is not doing this to demean baptism but to point to a symptom of the divisions. Namely, people are claiming to be baptized in someone’s name other than in Jesus Christ. Paul concludes with the assertion that he came to “proclaim the gospel….so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.” Baptism is clearly important to Paul but if thought to be done by any particular person the point of the baptism has been missed. Later in 1 Corinthians 10:1-4 Paul compares baptism to Israel’s exodus through the sea.
The import of the dissensions in Corinth is not over personal antagonisms but the necessity to stay on message. His message and appeal is in the “name of our Lord Jesus Christ” hoping that the “cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.”
We need to look in our own community and ourselves and ask how we are emptying the hope and power of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. Is it because we act as though the church exists just to meet our personal needs? Can we change that around to ask, “What can I give to the community? Can we overcome our dissensions by listening to the perspectives of others and realizing that God came to overcome separation and to become fully involved in reconciliation? Can we come to understand that the call to unity is not merely the call to uniformity?
** Josefina Alys Hermes de Vasconcellos (26 October 1904 – 20 July 2005) an English sculptor from a Brazilian background created (originally in 1977) this powerful bronze entitled Reconciliation. It is found in Coventry Cathedral and several other places.