First Corinthians 1--Greetings from Paul and Sosthenes
Feb 14, 2017
Paul begins his letter with his introduction in 1 Corinthians 1:1-3,
1 Paul, called as an apostle [“a called apostle”] of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, 2 to the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours; 3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Today when we write letters, we normally address the person to whom we are corresponding at the start, and then we sign our name at the end of the letter. But it was customary in those days to identify the letter writer at the start of the letter, and, especially in the case of official letters, to list one’s credentials. Paul does this by identifying himself as “a called apostle of Jesus Christ.”
Paul was writing to the church at Corinth, which he himself had established earlier for a period of a year and six months (Acts 18:11) from the fall of 51 to the spring of 53 A.D. This letter, however, was not written only by Paul himself, but also on behalf of “Sosthenes our brother,” or more literally, “Sosthenes, THE brother.” His inclusion in the greeting appears to indicate that Sosthenes was well known to those in Corinth, as if he had accompanied Paul to Ephesus.
It is hardly possible to prove it, but this seems to be the same Sosthenes who was beaten by the crowd at Paul’s hearing before Gallio the proconsul in Corinth. After dismissing the case against Paul, Acts 18:16, 17 says that Gallio…
16… drove them away from the judgment seat. 17 And they all took hold of Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue, and began beating him in front of the judgment seat. And Gallio was not concerned about any of these things.
It appears that Sosthenes was asked to lead the synagogue after Crispus (the previous leader) believed in Jesus. Sosthenes himself opposed Paul and his teachings, much like Paul himself had opposed such teachings in his earlier life when he persecuted the church. But just as Jesus Christ had reached down and conscripted Paul (i.e., Saul) for divine service as an apostle, so also did Jesus Christ touch the heart of Sosthenes.
If we put ourselves in the shoes of Paul, it is no stretch of the imagination to say that Paul could identify with Sosthenes, having walked in his shoes at one time. When the crowd turned upon Sosthenes and beat him in front of the judgment seat, what would Paul have done? The book of Acts is silent, but if we study the heart of Paul, as well as the doctor’s heart of Luke, his companion, we can easily see Paul coming to defend Sosthenes. I can see him begging the crowd to stop the beating. I can see Luke bending over Sosthenes and treating his wounds with divine care and love.
It appears that their Christ-like love won respect from Sosthenes and eventually brought about his conversion. The beating had given Paul and Luke an opportunity to show the synagogue the truth of Christ’s love for His enemies who persecuted Him and even killed Him. Would Paul and Luke have missed such an opportunity? I do not think so, for who else could “Sosthenes, the brother” have been, and why else would Paul include him in the initial greeting to the church in Corinth? It is obvious that the Corinthian church knew Sosthenes very well, and it is unlikely that there were two men by that name in the same story.
In fact, as a leader of the synagogue, Sosthenes would have been useful in Paul’s witness to Jews in other synagogues, an example (like Crispus) of a prominent, learned Jew who had been won to Christ by the power of love and forgiveness. Hence, there is a larger story here, although untold, lurking in the shadows. And Paul’s inclusion of Sosthenes at the start of his epistle of sanctification also shows how the Holy Spirit can change one’s heart and life.
The Little Horn and the Persecuted Saints
So Paul and Sosthenes write, as it were, a joint letter “to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling” (1 Corinthians 1:2). Paul and Sosthenes, both persecutors of the church, have been called and sanctified, or set apart for divine service. Both have been changed by the power of the Holy Spirit and are “saints” of the Most High, called to receive authority in the Kingdom when the power of the little horn of Daniel 7 has ended.
Daniel 7:21, 22 says,
21 I kept looking, and that horn was waging war with the saints and overpowering them 22 until the Ancient of Days came, and judgment was passed in favor of the saints of the Highest One, and the time arrived when the saints took possession of the kingdom.
When Paul speaks of “saints,” he is referencing those who, in the end, are called to possess and to rule the kingdom. No doubt Paul understood that the Roman Empire was the fourth beast in Daniel 7, and the “war with the saints” was already a reality, even though the little horn had not yet made his appearance. By putting ourselves into Paul’s shoes, it is probable that Paul believed that he had been part of the little horn company while “waging war with the saints.” Sosthenes, too, had followed that same path, along with most of the synagogues who rejected the gospel of Jesus Christ.
It appears that Paul was not given the revelation that the church itself was to degenerate into carnality to the point where, like the Jews in earlier times, it would begin to persecute the saints. Without such direct revelation, Paul could not have known how the Roman church would rise to power as an extension of the iron beast of the Roman Empire. From Paul’s limited first-century perspective, the war with the saints already had begun with Jesus’ crucifixion and with his own persecution, beginning with the stoning of Stephen.
Paul himself bore testimony of his early life, saying in Galatians 1:13-16,
13 For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure, and tried to destroy it; 14 and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions. 15 But when He who had set me apart [sanctified me], even from my mother’s womb, and called me through His grace, was pleased 16 to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles [ethnos, “nations”] …
This was how Paul was called as an apostle, not by his own will, but “by the will of God”—or, as he tells the Galatians, he was set apart “from my mother’s womb.” Though at first he had done the will of the little horn in persecuting the church, God had called him to be one of the saints of the Most High. In making this switch, he himself became one of the persecuted ones, and Sosthenes was raised up to war against Paul and the Corinthian church until he too was called by Christ to be one of the persecuted saints.
Hence, when Paul identifies the Corinthian believers as “saints by calling,” there is tremendous weight behind his words. The weight is seen only by contrasting the calling of the saints with the calling of the persecutors who are of the little horn. Hence, we can see that the little horn of Daniel 7:21 is not limited to the Roman church in later years, but also to the spirit of zealous Judaism with which Paul was so familiar in the first century.
Paul defines the saints as being “all who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Some have tried to define the saints in racial or biological terms. I have heard men teach that the saints in Daniel’s writings are the Jews or perhaps the Israelites. But Paul makes it clear that the term applies to those who believe in Jesus Christ. Hence, if a Jew or an Israelite does not believe in Jesus Christ, he is not a saint, nor is he called to rule the Kingdom of God after the fall of the little horn.
Christ Jesus and Jesus Christ
In 1 Corinthians 1:1 Paul says He was called by “Jesus Christ,” and in the next verse he says that the saints were sanctified “in Christ Jesus.” The reverse pattern changes the emphasis, as Dr. Bullinger tells us in Appendix 98 (IX) at the back of The Companion Bible. Of the term, Jesus Christ, he says,
“In the combination of these two names, the former is emphatic by its position, the second being subsidiary and explanatory. In the Gospels it means ‘Jesus the Messiah.’ In the Epistles it means Jesus Who humbled Himself but is now exalted and glorified as Christ.”
In other words, Jesus Christ sets forth Jesus as the Christ, or Messiah with all that this calling and anointing entails. The Messiah was to humble Himself even to the point of dying on the cross, so that He might be exalted and glorified as the King of all creation.
Of the term, Christ Jesus, Dr. Bullinger continues, saying,
“This is the converse of ‘Jesus Christ’ (XI) and denotes the now exalted One, Who once humbled Himself.” (XII)
So, according to Dr. Bullinger, Christ is here emphasized, and Jesus is the explanatory word. Christ is not Jesus’ surname, but is His calling as the Anointed One, the King of Creation. In fact, all Christians, though subordinate to Jesus Christ, are “little christs,” as the name indicates, because, as 1 John 2:20 says, “you have an anointing [chrisma] from the Holy One.” In other words, we are all anointed by the same Holy Spirit, though Jesus Himself will always have the highest calling as “the first-born from the dead” (Colossians 1:18).
Paul says in Romans 8:11,
11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you.
We have the same Spirit indwelling us that raised Christ Jesus from the dead. The quality of that Spirit indwelling us is equal to that which is in Christ Jesus Himself. It is the Christ anointing, and the only difference is the quantity given to Jesus, the Head, whose has the highest calling within the Body of Christ.
This is part 2 of a series titled "Studies in First Corinthians." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones