Who is Sosthenes from 1 Corinthians 1?

Paul writes his letter and begins it by noting that it is sent from he and his brother Sosthenes. But who is this Sosthenes?

While we cannot be sure who this refers to, there is a Sosthenes mentioned in chapter 18 of the book of Acts.

12 But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal, 13 saying, "This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law." 14 But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, "If it were a matter of wrongdoing or vicious crime, O Jews, I would have reason to accept your complaint. 15 But since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves. I refuse to be a judge of these things." 16 And he drove them from the tribunal. 17 And they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of this.

This Sosthenes was a Jewish leader who, when his plans to attack Paul ended in an embarrassing rejection by the Roman ruler Gallio, was beaten and rejected by his own people. It is not far fetched to think that this man that was beaten and isolated may have been one that Paul himself would have approached, showing compassion. In so doing maybe this onetime enemy of Paul became a friend of the church and a brother. Paul probably would have had a special sympathy for Jewish leaders persecuting the church, for that was Paul’s own history back when he was Saul.

No Leader is Good Enough to Replace Christ

An issue that arises in this first chapter is the way in which factions have developed within the church, each seeking to ally themselves with a different teacher. Some follow Paul, others, Apollos, Cephas, or Christ.

This may have reflected ethnic divisions in Corinth, with the Roman contingent in the city preferring the Roman citizen, Paul. The Greeks identified with the Greek, Apollos. Jews with Peter, here identified with his Jewish name, Cephas. Ken Bailey writes:

Breaking into ethnic enclaves is unacceptable. Furthermore, loyalties to individuals is not an excuse for breaking the unity of the church. Their leaders are not adequate centers for primary loyalty. (Emphasis mine.)

We still fall into this trap of lifting individuals up into a role that is only properly filled by Jesus Christ. That is a clear emphasis of Paul in chapter 1: Jesus Christ is who matters more. Did Paul die for you? Were you baptized into Paul? No. Jesus Christ, and he alone, has died for you and could do so. Being indentified with Christ is what is greatest importance and he is whose name we call upon and whose name is placed upon us. After all, we’re called Christians.

Again, Bailey sums up the issue well and very succintly, “The question is not ‘Who is my leader?’ but rather, ‘Who died for us?’” These divisions are problematic, but the solution lies in turning to the cross, which dominates the next section of 1 Corinthians.[1]


Today I saw this article on the front page of Christianity Today that I thought (was going to) fit perfectly on this topic. It’s titled ‘Our Unhealthy Obsession with Pastors,’ by Luma Simms. The article does do a good job of hitting on this point that we can focus too much on a local church leader, and Simms writes, “Many of us have come to believe, consciously or unconsciously, that the man standing up front every Sunday is the only one doing real ministry.”

Of course that is not true. Pastors are just one group among the whole royal priesthood of God’s people. While we need to be cautious that we are not idolizing the man or woman that stands behind the pulpit, we need to at the same time lift up the varied work of the whole church.

I said that I thought this article was going to be a perfect fit, but it went from being a critique on the celebrity culture that seems to trace itself from 1 Corinthians 1 to today and became more an article about making sure that people don’t idolize the pulpit so that women don’t covet that sort of leadership. It is as though the greatest concern here isn’t a pastor taking attention from Christ, but that a certain group of people thought to be disallowed from the pastorate are sinfully drawn to it.

There is a better reason to not idolize the pulpit, and it is so that Jesus Christ remains as our focus. And we have no reason to fear a woman leading, as this letter of 1 Corinthians itself will give us examples of both men and women who exhibit leadership as they prophesy in the church.


  1. Kenneth E. Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes, 71. ↩

Getting the Most Out of Your Year in the Bible Experience

I wanted to put together something to help you get the most out of your experience with Year in the Bible, and as I was working on it, I concluded it was best to split it into multiple parts. So today: the basics.

As you know this is a guided reading plan that will slowly take us through 1 Corinthians. That being the case there are three things to do each week: read, study, memorize.

Read

  • I expect you to read the weekly scripture. If you take part in a reading plan, of course you read, right?

Study

  • I encourage you to study. This text is so short and it is designed so that you have the time to read, and re-read, studying the Bible, asking questions and seeking answers. To study is to approach it in prayer, not just approach it as something to quickly finish and check off as done.

Memorize

  • I recommend you memorize the weekly verses. This is not a requirement. But it is going to make this experience all the more impactful as you store God’s word in your heart.

Again, at minimum, read. But the further steps you take the more God will work in you. If you’re on the fence about memorizing, read this article that lifts it up as a great spiritual discipline, including this quote:

Bible memorization is absolutely fundamental to spiritual formation. If I had to choose between all the disciplines of the spiritual life, I would choose Bible memorization, because it is a fundamental way of filling our minds with what it needs.
Dallas Willard

Desiring God: Memorizing Scripture – Why and How

God’s Calling in 1 Corinthians 1

Calling on Jesus

Exciting discussion occurred around my breakfast table this morning–which is a relative term since I’m not that excitable early in the day. But my wife and I were talking about the different ways to translate the opening lines, and in particular, the way in which the word “call” or “called” is used.

In this week’s reading I counted four instances of the word and three of them fall in the first two verses. From the ESV here are verses with the words bolded:

Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes.
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours…

Ken Bailey translates this differently, keeping the calling as something God does throughout, which changes the last phrase to:

…Together with all those who are called by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This use of “called” is not quite the way someone is “called” Harry in the UK (ie. the way we use “named” in the US). But according to Bailey, it’s not so far off. Being called by the name of Jesus is an action that claims us as belonging not to ourselves, but to our Lord Jesus Christ, for “God’s name is called upon the things that belong to God, be they objects like temples, or people.”1

Either way, the calling is a meaningful action. It is God’s calling to himself a people, calling them to be his own in Jesus Christ. This is God’s action, graciously taking a divided, sinful people and making them into his church. This is God finding a villain to the early disciples, Saul, and calling him to now be an apostle of Jesus Christ, Paul. It is God calling us to take part in the story of Jesus Christ.

Whether one translation is better than the other does not keep us from seeing that in these verses we find that our identity is founded in Jesus Christ and thanks be to God for such a call. Paul wants our attention turned to Jesus and his opening is all about Jesus–just take note of how often his name is repeated in this chapter. And now we are to be about him and our calling on him is all it takes to bind the church in Corinth with saints in every place. This introduction reminds us that it is less about us and more about the one who has called us, sanctifies us, and blesses us in Christ Jesus, our Lord.


  1. Kenneth E. Bailey, Paul Through Middle Eastern Eyes, 60. ↩

To Whom Was Paul Writing?

The opening of 1 Corinthians sets the stage for what will follow in Paul’s letter. [1] This is not unique to this letter, but is often how Paul works. So it is good to spend this week making sure we’re on the same page before we digest any more.

One key question, which may sound obvious, is, “To whom is this letter addressed?” Is it simply to the “church of God in Corinth”? If so, is this letter very limited in its application to just the pastoral setting of that one church in that one city long ago?

Or is this letter to this church, and in response to its needs, as well as to “all those who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”? Is Paul addressing the Church (big C) as he addresses this Corinthian church (little C)? Because if he is, then his intent is larger and his teaching more dynamic as it applies even to us today, living centuries later.

Some scholars take the first view and see 1 Corinthians as an “occasional” letter very much written in response to the particulars of Corinth and its people. One commentary I’m using in studying this book is Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes by Ken Bailey and he offers an alternative. He doesn’t think Paul was quickly jumping from thought to thought as he addressed the particulars of Corinth–the issues he heard either by letter or word of mouth. Rather he sees a well-organized structure to 1 Corinthians and that the questions of Corinth are fit into Paul’s outline, and not that his outline is based first on their questions.[2]

Understanding a broader audience for Paul, we are now able to continue into the letter keeping our eyes open to what he wants this church, and all churches to understand and believe about our Lord Jesus Christ.


  1. This is why I’ve made the opening lines our memory verse. While others may pack more punch, the opening lines will benefit us throughout our reading. I posted this a week or so back, but this visualization may help you to memorize: 1 Corinthians 1:1-3 ↩

  2. Kenneth E. Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes: Cultural Studies in 1 Corinthians., 23-26. ↩

Year in the Bible Begins Today (and I’m already finished?)

Welcome to day one of the new Year in the Bible!

I hope you are even half as excited as I am to begin a new reading plan together and to uncover what God has in store for us as we read and study 1 Corinthians. I’ve tried to answer the questions you may have as we prepared for today, but I’ve got one more that may come now that you’ve had time to read.

I can imagine a few people picking up their Bible, looking up what the reading assignment is for this week, sitting down and then in a few minutes asking, “What now?” What do you do for the rest of your week when you finish the text so quickly?

Here are some simple suggestions:

  • Read it again. That’s a simple one, right?
  • Write down your reflections and/or questions.
  • Find someone to share those reflections with.
  • Rewrite the text in your own words or summarize the text.
  • If you have some sort of study Bible, take a look in the margins for cross references and do some Biblical exploration for other passages that may expand on ideas from this text.
  • Memorization – this week I’m encouraging you to memorize 1 Corinthians 1:1-3, Paul’s intro. (They won’t all be this long.)

It is far too easy to read something and let it quickly pass through you. What we want to do is read in such a way that God’s word permeates our minds and rests in our hearts. That’s why we’re going slow. So when you finish early, know that it is an intentional choice to give you more time to devote yourself to learning 1 Corinthians.

Week 1 Memory Verse 1 Cor 1.1-3

About the Bible Studies

Even though we are already slowing down as compared to our last reading plan, it is no reason to get rid of the Bible studies we had in what were called “focus passages.” When we read 25 chapters I didn’t want us to miss out on the slow, meditative sort of reading that allows us to prayerfully go through Scripture. When we do so we allow God to confront us with challenges and questions, we can better see and gain comfort in his Word, and we can take the time to ask our own questions. Even better we can do so with others.

On Wednesdays we’ll have a Bible study at 6pm at our church. Anyone is welcome. We’ll take time to talk about anything of interest that came up and we’ll also use the Bible study handouts to guide our discussion. Small groups also have used these handouts to study the Bible. Whether at the Wednesday group or a small group, I believe studying with others is the best way. I’d encourage you to at least find a friend (or make a new friend!) to read with you. Ask your spouse, invite your neighbor, get a co-worker to meet with you at lunch. Find a way to let the Spirit speak through others. I know for me, I never leave a time spent gathered around the Bible with another without having benefited.

Anyone can read through 1 Corinthians in five months. Most could find time to do it today. But we don’t want to read it just to do it. We want to read it to understand what God wants us to know and to be shaped by the Spirit as we study his Word. Bible study is key to this.

Here is the first week’s study to take a look at. Again, we’ll study this together this Wednesday at 6pm. But I am just as happy if you find a friend or get a small group together to study Scripture.

Week 1 – 1 Corinthians 1:1-17