1Corinthians 9:23-10:22

Dec 6, 2010


The outline above intended to reward study.  It is longer than normal and so there are some points that deserve explanation.

First of all, let’s establish that this large outline does indeed comprise one pericope.  Often 9:23 is grouped as the conclusion of the previous pericope.  However, if you are following these chiastic structures, you will remember how clearly the last structure (9:15-22) began and ended on the same note - that of Paul’s universal mission with its emphasis on “all.”   9:23 begins with the disjunctive particle de, which clearly separates it from the previous section.  This verse also contains a crucial thematic connection with what follows (in this pericope), specifically with it’s counterpart in 10:14-22.  That connection is the vocabulary in the semantic domain of koinwnoß - the idea of one being a partner or sharer with someone or something.  In addition, (and this may seem innocuous at first) there is a definite repetition and particular placement of ginomai (“become”) in the beginning and end of the first chiastic structure (9:23 & 27) and thereafter, in connection with idolatry (10:7 & 20). 

Second, notice that the main outline has an ABCCBA chiastic structure, yet it also has a secondary   AB / AB parallelism in just the two outer terms (as shown in the outline by the grey font).  In the “A” sections this parallelism is evidenced by the repetition of the possibility of a catastrophic fall for the Christian, whether this entails being disqualified from the spiritual competition for an imperishable wreath (9:27) or taking heed lest one fall (10:12).  In the “B” sections this is evidenced by the reference to the sacrament of holy communion.  In 10:3-4, he mentions the spiritual food and drink (in that order) of the Old Testament people of God.  He purposely does not use the terms bread and cup in this instance.  In this case, the drinking of that Old Testament Supper (including the Rock) is singled out to emphasize and illustrate the covenant blessing of God that Israel enjoyed.  In the second case, 10:16-17 (with its parallel in 10:21), the cup and the bread (in that order) are specifically mentioned in their New Testament Lord’s Supper context.  Since the actual institution of the Lord’s Supper was bread first, then the cup, it is notable that Paul chose this (reverse) order.  For the Corinthians, this would have been an immediately noticeable departure from the traditional order.  The bread is saved for last and singled out to emphasize and illustrate the oneness that results from partaking in the Lord’s Supper.  So Paul has used one element (drink) earlier and now has balanced his composition by using the other element of holy communion (bread).  Paul intended to balance the food & drink (from the first half of the pericope), chiastically, against the cup & bread (in the second half) so that the food would be mentioned last in the last instance.  He did this primarily to transition into his final argument against participating in idolatrous eating via the lesson of Israel’s sacrifices. This is his central argument in the chiastic structure of 10:16-22.  Secondarily, Paul also wanted to lay a foundation, in principle, for what he would later apply in chapter 11 (in that Lord’s Supper context) about the church’s violation, by their divisions, of the one body of Christ. 

With the AB / AB parallelism dealt with, the larger chiastic structure proper may now be considered.  As previously mentioned, the main chiastic structure is patterned as ABC / CBA.  Because the AB / AB parallelism material coincides with the A & B portions of the chiastic structure, this probably shows that, in Paul’s conception, the “C” material was intended as as the pivot for an otherwise classic ABBA pattern.  Though this “C” pivotal material is not as complicated in thought, it isn’t just window dressing or filler.  Rather, the Old Testament citations take the climactic center of Paul’s larger lesson.  After speaking generally and metaphorically (using the New Testament sacraments in Old Testament contexts - note especially how “baptized into Moses” is used paradigmatically with reference to our being joined to Christ), he specifically emphasizes the similarity of the Corinthian behavior with particular examples that incurred the judgment of God in the Old Testament.  Thus, in the outline, these sections are entitled, “Specific Examples of Israel for Us.”  The ABBA structure of that central portion (10:6-11) is not difficult to see.  Interestingly, in the very middle (10:9), Paul again inserts “Christ” into the Old Testament context.  He relates that we should not put Christ to the test, “as some of them did.”  Thus, by identifying Christ with the Lord in Numbers 21, the deity of Christ is implied.  This also serves as a very direct warning to the Corinthians (and us) as to the potential for serious consequences when we live carelessly.

The B & B’ sections are also not difficult to grasp as parallels.  They both deal with standing and falling, but the second section does so in reverse order.  Since this is not meant to be a commentary, the outline above should serve sufficiently for explanation.   As with Paul’s previous warning, there is a very real possibility of falling in 10:12.  However, Paul balances this with hope in the covenant faithfulness of the living God who will provide a way of escape that they may endure the temptation (here, to idolatry).

The A & A’ sections might be more difficult to show to be parallels if we didn’t already have most of the other pieces of the puzzle in place.  However, the parallels using the semantic domains of “sharing” and “becoming” were previously mentioned.  It seems that these concepts come together in both sections.  Initially, the nature of his subject is veiled.  He uses himself as the example of wanting to “become” a joint sharer of the Gospel (not the benefits of the Gospel, as some would insert).  And Paul even considers that he could “become” disqualified from this Gospel contest.  (Yet another warning.)  Is this a disqualification from being a preacher of the Good News? (This is worth considering, given the previous context.)  Or is this (and the possible “fall” of 10:12) some loss of reward or even loss of salvation? (This is also worth considering given the reward motif of the athletic contest in the near context.)  It is certainly depicted as eternal rather than temporal in nature (9:25).  I will give some support for my proposal below, but I think Paul is referring to his share in the righteousness of the Kingdom and this is the prize he is striving for. 

His warning is further explained by the fall of most of the Israelites (since he uses the explanatory “for” in 10:1).  He also further delineates the nature of his topic in his parallel section (10:14ff) and this will help explain my proposal.  In vs 14ff, he is clearly warning the Corinthians about not “becoming” “sharers” with demons.  So we are no longer talking about becoming sharers of the “Gospel” but sharing in the the blood and body of “Christ.”  Likewise, he is using Israel’s sacrificial alter to illustrate the same idea of sharing/participation.  What can we conclude from these parallels, though they are slightly different?  One is immediately struck with the possibility that the sharing of the Gospel (in the first section) might, via this rhetorical relationship, have some paradigmatic relation to the Sacramental sharing in the last section.  Not that the one is an exact substitute for the other, but that both stand within the same set, which is Christ Jesus, our Lord (and him crucified and risen).  That is, in 9:23ff the Gospel itself is depicted as the goal and prize.  He explicitly says so in vs 23.  And after all, it is the Gospel of the kingdom of God that Paul preached (Acts 14:22, 19:8, 28:23,31).  The spoken Gospel message is the means to that end.  And significantly, this is the same message as that which is conveyed in the Eucharist.  The sacrificial meal that we share, when we partake of the body and the blood of the crucified Christ, is also a foretaste of the heavenly banquet in the kingdom of God.  Notice that, in the chiasm of vs14-22 that Paul shifts from the reference to “Christ” (i.e., the crucified lamb of God, our Passover in vs 16) to the idea of the “Lord” at his “table” in vs 21.  The Corinthians “cannot” (with impunity) participate in idol worship and also participate with the Lord at his table.  The point is clearly made that the risen Lord is host, even now, when we come together to eat and drink in worship - and we do not want to provoke him to jealousy.  So, the rhetoric points out, that theologically, it is not just the Gospel, but also the Eucharist, that is the power of God for salvation.  They both are so, because it is only in and through the means of grace that we come to understand and continue to believe in the person and work of Christ (past, present, and future).  The body and blood we share in holy communion are the sacrificed body and blood of the now risen Christ, who is the host at the table.  The sacrifice (Christ in his body and blood), with whom we have identified and been united, is no longer dead.  He has trampled death and been vindicated by the Spirit.  He is the risen and glorified Son of God and our Lord.  And we are sharers in his kingdom because we have been united with him in his death and resurrection.  God made him, who knew no sin, to be a “sin offering,” so that in him we might become the righteousness of God!  So, as the historic Christian liturgy begins, “Blessed is the kingdom!” Praise be to him both now and forever!