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THE EARLIER EPISTLES OF ST PAUL.
WE must now pass to the Epistles themselves, taken mainly in chronological order, without however attempting to notice more than a very few of the most instructive passages bearing on our subject. Strictly speaking a large part of them all has a bearing on it, as we must see when once we recognise that in the Apostle’s eyes all true life in an Ecclesia is a life of community, of the harmonious and mutually helpful action of different elements, so that he is giving instruction on the very essence of membership when in each of the nine Epistles addressed to Ecclesiae he makes the peace of God to be the supreme standard for them to aim at, and the perpetual self-surrender of love the comprehensive means of attaining it.
The Epistles to the Thessalonians.
To begin with 1 Thessalonians. At the outset St Paul dwells much on the marks of God’s special love (i. 4), His special choice or election of them (doubtless chiefly at least their election as a community), 124as attested in the warmth with which under severe trials they had embraced the Gospel, and become imitators of himself and his associates and of the Lord; so that from them the word of the Lord had sounded forth anew far and wide. This was how they came to be an Ecclesia.
Of the temper and attitude which should always govern the members of an Ecclesia towards each other preeminently and then further towards all men, he has much to say in various places, the foundation being ‘love’ in accordance with the Lord’s own new commandment, and the comprehensive result, His gift of peace3434See 1 Thess. iii. 12; iv. 9-11, &c.: where, as in iv. 9, φιλαδελφία comes in, it connotes the special principle of action as between Christian and Christian, not ‘brotherly love’, as A.V. usually has it, i.e. love like that of brethren, but actual ‘love of brethren’ as being brethren.
Two closely related passages, one in each Epistle, deserve attention.
In 2 Thess. iii. 6-16 is a remarkable warning against some brethren among the Thessalonians who walked ‘in an irregular and disorderly way’ (ἀτάκτως, the word carrying with it the association of the verb ἀτακτέω applied to soldiers who leave their ranks or who do not keep in rank): they walked, he says, “not according to the tradition which ye received from us.” The special point would seem to be that on 125some plea or other, whether of sanctity or gifts of teaching or the like (we are not told which) they claimed a specially privileged position, particularly the privilege of being supported by others. Against this pretension St Paul sets his own deliberate practice when among them, how he followed no irregular and exceptional ways (οὐκ ἡτακτήσαμεν ἐν ὑμῖν), but in spite of the right which he might have acted on, worked for his own bread, that he might shew in his own person an example for all to copy, as well as not to burden any of them. “And if any,” he adds, “hearkeneth not to our word through the epistle, note that man not to company with him, that he may be ashamed (ἐντραπῇ); and count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother. And may the Lord of peace Himself give you His peace at all times in every way.” Here we have the beginning of the “discipline” of an Ecclesia, exercised by the community itself. Seclusion from the society of its members is seen illustrating by contrast what membership of an Ecclesia means on its practical side.
The other passage is in 1 Thess. v. 11-15, 23. Here the practised life of membership is the starting point. “Wherefore encourage ye one another (παρακαλεῖτε ἀλλήλους), and build ye up each3535The Greek here (εἶς τὸν ἕνα) is remarkable, and may be illustrated by 1 Cor. iv. 6 ἵνα μὴ εἷς ὑπὲρ τοῦ ἑνὸς φυσιοῦσθε κατὰ τοῦ ἑτέρου, St Paul’s point there being the dividing effect of inflatedness or puffing up, as here the uniting effect of mutual building up. the other 126as also ye do.” Then come two verses in which St Paul interrupts his words to and about the Thessalonian Christians generally, in order to call their attention to a special class among them: “But we ask you, brethren, to keep in knowledge (εἰδέναι) them that labour among you and guide you in the Lord (προϊσταμένους ὑμῶν ἐν Κυρίῳ) and admonish you, and to esteem them very exceedingly (as we should say ‘in a special way’ ὑπερεκπερισσοῦ or -ῶς) because of their work. Be at peace in (or among) yourselves.” Though it is morally impossible that προϊσταμένους3636This common assumption is further negatived by the prevailing usage of προΐσταμαι (especially in the present) both in ordinary Greek and in the New Testament. can here be the technical title of an office standing as it does between “labouring” and “admonishing”, yet the persons meant are to all appearance office-bearers of the Ecclesia. The reference is the more interesting because elsewhere in St Paul’s Epistles (Pastoral Epistles and the salutation in Phil. i. 1 excepted) we find no other mention of such persons as actually existing in any individual church. It can hardly be doubted that Elders are meant, though no title is given. The characteristics assigned to them are three. Their labouring (κοπιῶντας) is doubtless specially meant to be opposed to the conduct of such persons as we have seen denounced in the Second Epistle (iii. 11). Then comes their guidance, προϊσταμένους, a word 127usually applied to informal3737Cf. Rom. xii. 8 ὁ προϊστάμενος ἐν σπουδῇ between two very different clauses. leaderships and managings of all kinds, rather than to definite offices, and associated with the services rendered to dependents by a patron3838Cf. Rom. xvi. 2 καὶ γὰρ αὐτὴ (Phoebe) προστάτις πολλῶν ἐγενήθη καὶ ἒμοῦ αὐτοῦ. See p. 207., so that (as in Romans) helpful leadership in Divine things would be approximately the thought suggested. Third comes their work of admonition or warning. Of any other form of teaching nothing is said; and probably all three descriptions should be taken as setting forth services rendered to the individual members of the Ecclesia, rather than to the Ecclesia as a whole.
After this digression St Paul takes up (1 Thess. v. 14) the thread dropped after v. 11: “But we exhort you, brethren, admonish the disorderly (ἀτάκτους again), encourage the fainthearted, sustain the weak, be long-suffering towards all.” The services then which have just been mentioned as specially rendered by the Elders, were not essentially different from services which members of the Ecclesia, simply as brethren, were to render each other. They too were to admonish the disorderly, as also to do the converse work of encouraging the feebleminded. They too were to make the cause of the weak3939Cf. Chrysostom on Rom. xii. 6; Acts xx. 35 (addressed to the Ephesian Elders οὕτως κοπιῶντας δεῖ ἀντιλαμβάνεσθαι τῶν ἀσθενούντων. their own, to sustain them, which is at least one side, if not more, 128of the ‘helpful leadership’ of the Elders; as well as to shew long suffering towards all. And again towards the close it is “the God of peace Himself” that St Paul prays may hallow and keep the Thessalonians.
The Epistles to the Corinthians.
The next Epistle, 1 Corinthians, is perhaps the richest of all in illustrative matter: but we must pass through it very quickly. Of late years it has been the occasion of an interesting theory. Many people seem to find a difficulty in believing that the Ecclesiae founded by St Paul in the west, or perhaps even further east among heathen populations, were founded on a Jewish basis, such as the Acts seems to imply, in at least the earlier cases. It has been pointed out that evidence is fast accumulating (chiefly from inscriptions) respecting the existence of multitudes of clubs or associations, religious or other, in the Greek cities of the Empire; and it has been suggested that in such places as Corinth, the Christian congregation or society was an adaptation rather of some such Greek models as these than of any Jewish congregation or society. The presence of these heathen brotherhoods in the same cities with the new Christian brotherhoods is in any case a striking fact; and it may be that hereafter traces of their influence may be detected in the Epistles. But I must confess that at present, as far as I can see, it is the paucity and 129uncertainty of such traces that are chiefly surprising. It would not have been right to pass over so plausible a suggestion in silence: but I fear it will give us no help towards interpreting the evidence of the Epistles themselves.
The first few verses of 1 Corinthians (i. 4-9) after the salutation give us its main theme. St Paul thanks God for the gifts in which these typical Greeks of the Empire were rich, ‘speech’ and ‘knowledge,’ and then goes on to warn them against the natural abuse of these gifts, the self-assertion fostered by glibness and knowingness, and the consequent spirit of schism or division, the very contradiction of the idea of an Ecclesia. The habit of seeming to know all about most things, and of being able to talk glibly about most things, would naturally tend to an excess of individuality, and a diminished sense of corporate responsibilities. This fact supplies, under many different forms, the main drift of 1 Corinthians. Never losing his cordial appreciation of the Corinthian endowments, St Paul is practically teaching throughout that a truly Christian life is of necessity the life of membership in a body.
After the thanksgiving he exhorts them (i. 10-17) by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, the bond of a common service, that they all say the same thing, and there be in them no rents or divisions (σχίσματα), but that they be perfected in the same mind and in the same judgment. He has heard that there 130are strifes among them, due to partisanships adorned with Apostolic names. To all this he opposes the Cross of the Messiah. Presently (iii. 16 f.) he accounts for all by their forgetfulness that they were a temple, or shrine of God (for His Spirit by inhabiting their community or Ecclesia made it into a shrine of Himself), and he reminds them that this marring of the temple of God by their going each his own way was making them guilty of violence against the holiness of God; and again further on (iv. 6) he points out that the party factions which rent the Ecclesia, while they seemed to be in honour of venerated names, were in reality only a puffing up of each man against his neighbour.
With the fifth chapter the concrete practical questions begin. First comes the grievous moral offence which the Corinthian Christians were so strangely tolerating in one of their own number. St Paul’s language, circuitous as it may sound, has a distinct and instructive purpose when closely examined. The condemnation that he pronounces is not from a distance or in his own name merely: twice over he represents himself as present, present in spirit, in an assembly where the Corinthians and his spirit are gathered together with the power of our Lord Jesus. That is, while he is peremptory that the incestuous person shall be excluded from the community, he is equally determined that the act shall be their own act, not a mere compliance with a command 131of his: “do not ye judge them that are within,” he asks, “while them that are without God judgeth? Put away (Deut. xxii. 24) the evil man out of yourselves.”
How little this zeal for the purity of the community involved a pitiless disregard of the individual offender we may see from 2 Cor. ii.
The next chapter (vi.) contains a rebuke at once of the litigious spirit which contradicted the idea of a community, and of the consequent habit of having recourse to heathen tribunals rather than the arbitration of brethren.
The eighth chapter lays down the social rule that a man is bound not by his own conscience only, but by the injury which he may do to the conscience of his brethren.
The next three chapters (ix.-xi.) set forth in various ways the entrance into
the one body by baptism, and the sustenance of the higher life by that Supper of
the Lord4040 In x. 16-21, in arguing against complicity with idolatry through offered meats,
he appeals to the one bread which is broken as a Communion of the body of the
Christ, and then explains why: “because” he says, “we the many are one bread,
one body, for we partake all of us [of bread] from the one bread.”
The Holy Communion is more directly the subject of xi. 17-34, the special occasion being the injuries done to Christian fellowship by the practices which were tolerated at the Communion feast still identical with the Agape.
To these differences he applies the same term σχίσματα (v. 18) which in the first chapter he had applied to the parties glorying in Apostolic names. in which the mutual communion 132of members of the body, and the communion of each and all with the Head of the body are indissolubly united.
For our purpose the central chapter is the twelfth, starting from the differences of gifts and proceeding to the full exposition of the relation of body and members. But to this we shall have to return presently, as also to the closing verses setting forth the variety of functions appointed by God in the Ecclesia. Then comes the familiar thirteenth chapter on love, which in the light of St Paul’s idea of the Ecclesia we can see to be no digression, this gift of the Spirit being incomparably more essential to its life than any of the gifts which caught men’s attention.
Yet these too had their value subordinate as it was, and so in ch. xiv. St Paul teaches the Corinthians what standard to apply to them one with another, these standards being chiefly rational intelligibility, edification, i.e. the good of the community, and fitness for appealing to the conscience of heathen spectators.
2 Cor. contains little fresh but the peculiar verse, ix. 13. The concluding section (xii. 13) implies the same fears as to breaches of unity as the first Epistle; and it is worth notice from this point of view that in the final benediction the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit is added to the usual grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Galatians likewise calls now for no special remark.133
The Epistle to the Romans.
St Paul’s peculiar position towards the Romans invests his Epistle to them with an interest of its own. We saw before that the Ecclesia of Antioch was founded by no Apostle, and, as the Epistle shews, it is the same with that of the mighty Rome, which had sprung up no one knows how, no one knows when, from some promiscuous scattering of the seed of truth; though a later age invented a founding of both by St Peter. The contrast in St Paul’s tone, its total absence of any claim to authority, illustrates how large a part of the authority which he exercised towards other Ecclesiae was not official, so to speak, but personal, involved in his unique position as their founder, their father in the new birth. Here (i. 11 f.) telling the Romans that he longs to see them that he may impart to them some spiritual gift that they may be stablished, he instantly explains himself, “that is that I with you4141Cf. xv. 32 “and together with you find rest.” may be comforted in you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine.”
Almost the whole Epistle is governed by the thought which was filling St Paul’s mind at this time, the relation of Jew and Gentile, the place of both in the counsels of God, and the peaceful inclusion of both in the same brotherhood. On the one hand the failure and the obsoleteness of the Law in its letter is set forth more explicitly than ever; on the 134other the continuous growth of the new Ecclesia out of the old Ecclesia is expounded by the image of the grafting of the wild Gentile olive into the ancient olive tree of Israel.
The apparently ethical teaching of chapters xii. and xiii. is really for the most part on the principles of Christian fellowship, and rests on teaching about the body and its members, and about diversity of gifts resembling what occurs in 1 Corinthians, and will similarly need further examination presently.
Lastly, the fifteenth and parts of the sixteenth chapter illustrate historically, as other chapters had done doctrinally4242Note how here also the application of the principle of fidelity to Christian fellowship in xv. 7 to “mutual reception” (προσλαμβ̤νεσθε ἀλλήλους, cf. xiv. 1, 3; xi. 15) is specially connected with the relations of Jewish to Gentile Christians; and how once more the same principle is illustrated from another side by the remarkable section xvi. 17 — so which St Paul interposes as by an afterthought before the original final salutation, with its warnings against the (unnamed) Judaizers from whom he feared the introduction of divisions (διχοστασίας) and stumblingblocks, and its confident hope that nevertheless the God of peace would shortly bruise Satan under their feet, Satan the author of all discord and cunning calumny, of all that is most opposed to the purposes for which the Ecclesia of God and His Christ had been founded., St Paul’s yearnings for the unity of all Christians of East and West, and its association in his mind with his carrying the Gentile offering to Jerusalem, and, if he should then escape death, with his own presence at Rome, the centre and symbol of civil unity.135
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