How Paul standardized practices throughout the Christian community

Correcting Error

When correcting errors, answering questions, or providing instructions, Paul consistently appeals to universal practice in order to ensure ecclesias become aligned with the practice which is mandatory for all ecclesias everywhere.[1]

* 1 Corinthians 7:1, 17, ‘Now with regard to the issues you wrote about… I give this sort of direction in all the churches.’: answering questions from the ecclesia[2] [3] [4] [5]

* 1 Corinthians 11:16, ‘we have no other practice, nor do the churches of God’: correction of the Corinthian lack of head coverings[6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12]

* 1 Corinthians 14:33, ‘As in all the churches of the saints’: correction of the speaking of women in the congregation[13] [14]  [15] [16] [17]

* 1 Timothy 3:14-15, ‘I am writing these instructions to you in case I am delayed, to let you know how people ought to conduct themselves in the household of God’: directing Timothy to understand how all ecclesias should be organized, a summary of the purpose of this entire letter[18] [19] [20] [21] [22] [23] [24]

Paul corrects these local situations in universal terms of the Scripturally ‘right way’ of doing things, not as temporary emergency measures applied to local circumstances.[25] [26] He aims to standardize practices throughout all the ecclesias, correcting local errors by ensuring they conform to universal practices.


[1] ‘Some interpreters understand Paul’s instructions to be intended for their original Ephesian context only, for the correction of abuses specific to that church. The weakness of this view is that Paul grounds his teaching not in the local situation, as he sometimes does (Titus 1:10–13), but in two primal human events: the creation of the man first, and then the woman (1 Tim. 2:13; cf. Gen. 2); and the deceiving of the woman, not the man (1 Tim. 2:14; cf. Gen. 3:1–7).’, Ortlund, ‘Man and Woman’, in Alexander & Rosner, ‘New Dictionary of Biblical Theology’ (electronic ed. 2001).

[2] ‘Moreover, Paul assures the Corinthians that they are not alone in this endeavor, for all the churches are called and directed in this same manner, even as Paul himself lives this way.’, Soards (egalitarian), ‘1 Corinthians’, New International Biblical Commentary, p. 154 (1999).

[3]He makes this rule on the strength of his apostolic authority and applies it in all the churches (see 4:17; 14:34; 16:1).’, Kistemaker, ‘Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians’, Baker New Testament Commentary, volume 18, p. 230 (1993).

[4]This is my rule… : the Greek is literally “and this in all the churches I commanded” (TEV “teach”). …In some languages it may be more natural to translate “This is the rule that I teach in all the other churches as well as yours.”, Ellingworth, Hatton, & Ellingworth, ‘A Handbook on Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians’, UBS Handbook Series, p. 158 (rev. ed. 1995).

[5] ‘It may be taken as an encouragement: I am not simply saying this to you at Corinth; I say it widely wherever I preach and teach. Or it may (more probably) be understood as a reminder that this (possible) lack of realism or “eschatological perfectionism” is peculiar to this idiosyncratic interpretation of the gospel. Or (pace Wire and Castelli) to mean that Paul is not being personally authoritarian, but reflecting the “ordered” realism (τάσσω) of the wider church and its varied congregations.’, Thiselton (complementarian), ‘The First Epistle to the Corinthians’, New International Greek Testament Commentary, p. 550 (2000).

[6] ‘Paul concludes that if any want to contend this apostolic tradition, they need to take note that neither Paul nor the churches of God have any other practice.’, Carson, ‘New Bible Commentary: 21st century edition’ (4th rev. ed. 1994)

[7]Thus, he finishes his remarks on a weighty note: Should someone object to Paul’s arguments, teaching, or reasoning; then that person must realize that Paul’s position is a universal norm, for it is the practice … [of] the churches of God, and according to the practices of those churches, what was happening in Corinth was inappropriate.’, Soards (egalitarian), ‘1 Corinthians’, New International Biblical Commentary, p. 227 (1999).

[8] ‘But Paul has no intention of arguing the matter with anyone given to wordy battles (contentious, philoneikos, means someone who loves strife). Such people are capable of prolonging an argument indefinitely. In the face of such an attitude Paul points to universal Christian custom; Christians have no other practice. Exactly who he means by we is not clear; it may mean Paul himself, or the apostles generally, or those with him when he wrote the letter. But the nor do the churches of God shows that what he has outlined is the common practice throughout the churches.’, Morris, ‘1 Corinthians: An introduction and commentary’, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, volume 7, p. 153 (1985).

[9] ‘b. “We do not have such a custom, nor do the churches of God.” Paul refuses to be challenged on his teachings that are based on the Old Testament Scriptures. He knows that the rest of the apostles support him, and therefore he confidently writes the personal pronoun we. This is not the so-called editorial we, but an inclusive pronoun that embraces other leaders in the churches.’, Kistemaker, ‘Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians’, Baker New Testament Commentary, volume 18, p. 383 (1993).

[10] ‘Phps has “we and the churches of God generally…,” meaning “most churches.” This last is the most likely solutionA good sample translation is: “neither I nor the churches of God generally….”’, Ellington, Hatton, & Ellington, ‘A Handbook on Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians’, UBS Handbook Series, p. 252 (1995).

[11] ‘Paul reserves one final argument for those unpersuaded by his former points. One philosophical group called the Skeptics rejected all arguments except an almost universally accepted one: the argument from custom—”that’s just not the way it’s done.”’, Keener (egalitarian), ‘The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament’ (1993).

[12] ‘It seems self-evident that the custom (συνήθειαν) to which Paul alludes concerns gender distinctions in public worship, which, as Murphy-O’Connor urged, are addressed both to men and to women equally. The custom is the acceptance of an equality of status in accordance with which woman may lead in public prayer or preaching (see below on prophecy) side by side with a recognition that gender differences must not be blurred but appreciated, valued, and expressed in appropriate ways in response to God’s unrevoked decree.’, Thiselton (complementarian), ‘The First Epistle to the Corinthians’, New International Greek Testament Commentary, p. 847 (2000).

[13]33–36 deals with an aspect of the role of wives in the church. Some commentators get round the problem by stating that this section is a later addition and not by Paul. But every manuscript includes this passage. Three points need to be noted in seeking to understand the passage, (i) Wives prayed and prophesied in Christian gatherings (see 11:5). This was a common practice in all the apostolic churches (33b). The context is crucial viz. the evaluation of prophecy (v 35). (ii) The law requires the acknowledgement of the distinctive roles of men and women (34), a reference to Gn. 2:20–24 or 3:16. Paul has already cited the former in 11:8–9. (iii) The wife is to seek the elucidation of points at home, which could well mean that it is her husband who has given the prophecy (35). While there is no absolute certainty, the present writer takes the view that wives, in this public gathering, are not to engage in the public weighing of prophecy which involved the interrogation of its content.’, Carson, ‘New Bible Commentary: 21st century edition’ (4th rev. ed. 1994).

[14] ‘The phrase does seem to fit less awkwardly with verse 34, so that one finds a reference to church custom and then an example of it in the mention of women’s silence.’, Soards (egalitarian), ‘1 Corinthians’, New International Biblical Commentary, p. 305 (1999).

[15]  ‘If As in all the congregations of the saints (cf. 4:17) goes with this verse, Paul is calling on the Corinthians to conform to accepted Christian practice.’, Morris, ‘1 Corinthians: An introduction and commentary’, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, volume 7, p. 192 (1985).

[16] ‘However, the expression churches reflects nuances: the first occurrence (“As in all the churches of the saints”) alludes to churches in general and the second (“let the women keep silent in the churches”) to worship services. Conversely, verse 33b is not the only place in his epistles where Paul exhibits a lack of exemplary style. We assume that he is concerned not about elegance but rather about providing the churches with rules to bolster unity and harmony (compare 4:17; 7:17; 11:16)—concerns that he has emphasized throughout the epistle.’, Kistemaker, ‘Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians’, Baker New Testament Commentary, volume 18, p. 511 (1993).

[17] ‘One may say, for example, “This is what happens in all the churches of God’s people.”’, Ellingworth, Hatton, & Ellingworth, ‘A Handbook on Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians’, UBS Handbook Series, p. 324 (1995).

[18] ‘With these two images, family and temple, Paul expresses the two urgencies of this letter: his concern over proper behavior among believers vis-à-vis the false teachers, and the church as the people entrusted to uphold and proclaim the truth of the gospel.’, Fee (egalitarian), ‘1 and 2 Timothy, Titus’, New International Biblical Commentary, p. 92 (rev ed. 1988)

[19]These instructions is literally “these things,” which can be taken in a general sense as referring to the whole letter (as in TEV “as I write this letter”), or in a specific sense as referring to the instructions regarding the appointment of church leaders described in this chapter, which is what RSV seems to suggest. The first interpretation seems to be the more likely one and is recommended by this Handbook.’, Arichea (egalitarian), & Hatton, ‘A Handbook on Paul’s letters to Timothy and to Titus’, USB Handbook Series, p. 79 (1995).

[20] Paul’s prior admonitions to Timothy, especially in 3:1–13, thus serve a function analogous to the household codes of many ancient writers: providing a specific framework of wisdom for administrating the family unit and society.’, Keener (egalitarian), ‘The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament’ (1993).

[21] ‘The ἵνα clause then introduces the reason for Paul’s writing: so that Timothy and the church may know what is proper conduct for God’s household—with the implicit understanding that such knowledge will result in that kind of conduct.’, Knight (complementarian), ‘The Pastoral Epistles’, New International Greek Testament Commentary, p. 179 (1992).

[22]In emphasizing how important it is that people conduct themselves properly in the household of God, Paul has already pointed out that the church is the house of God,’, Mounce (complementarian), ‘Pastoral Epistles’, Word Biblical Commentary, volume 46, p. 221 (2002).

[23] ‘Here Paul breaks off his direct instructions to describe the nature of the church, putting his teaching into perspective.’, Carson, ‘New Bible Commentary: 21st century edition’ (4th rev. ed. 1994).

[24] ‘Paul authorizes Timothy to instruct the Ephesian church on ‘how one ought to behave in the household of God’ (1 Tim. 3:15). Included in his instructions are guidelines for men and women in church (ch. 2). Men are to pray without anger or argument (v. 8), and women are to adorn themselves with good works rather than with extravagant dress (vv. 9–10). Moreover, a woman is to ‘learn in silence with full submission’ (v. 11). Then Paul explains more fully what this silence with full submission entails: ‘I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man’ (v. 12).’, Ortlund, ‘Man and Woman’, in Alexander & Rosner, ‘New Dictionary of Biblical Theology’ (electronic ed. 2001).

[25] 1 Corinthians 11:16 If anyone intends to quarrel about this, we have no other practice, nor do the churches of God.

[26] 1 Corinthians 14: 34 the women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak. Rather, let them be in submission, as in fact the law says.; 37 If anyone considers himself a prophet or spiritual person, he should acknowledge that what I write to you is the Lord’s command.
38 If someone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.

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