Rightly Dividing the Epistles
by Don Treadway, February 2000
The Epistles -What did it mean to them and what does it mean to us?
1. IMPORTANT TERMS:
a. Epistle - letter
b. Occasional documents - rising out of a particular occasion
c. Historical context - reconstruction of the situation
d. Literary context - reconstruction of the argument in relation to
e. Exegesis - meaning that is found in the text
2. THE FORM OF A 1ST CENTURY LETTER ( I Corinthians)
a. Name of the writer - Paul
b. Name of the recipient - Church of God in Corinth
c. Greeting - Grace and peace ....
d. Prayer wish or thanksgiving - I always thank God...
e. Body - 1:10-16:23
f. Final greeting and farewell - The Grace of our Lord
3. THREE IMPORTANT POINTS ALL EPISTLES HAVE IN COMMON.
a. They are occasional letters.
b. They are from the first century.
c. They are not first of all theological treatises.
I. FIRST LET US LOOK AT THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT.
A. WHAT DID IT MEAN TO THEM?
1. Who is writing?
2. To whom is he writing?
3. What attitudes do they and he reflect in this letter?
4. What is their relationship?
5. What is going on that he is addressing?
6. How did he find out?
B. WHAT DO WE DO NOW?
1. Learn as much as we can about the recipients
2. Read the entire letter in one setting to get the big picture.
3. Take four kinds of notes (write down the references).
a. What do you notice about the recipients? (Chiefly gentiles, some Jews
12:2); (love wisdom and knowledge
(arrogant and proud 4:18,
5:2,6), (judge Paul
b. What do you notice about the writer's attitude? (Rebuke 4:8-13,
4:14-17, 16:10-11), Exhortation
c. What is mentioned about the occasion? (things declared to him by
d. What are the natural divisions?
4. Make a working outline. (For this class we will use the body of I
I. Paul's response to the report from Chloe's house.
A. 1:10-4:21 problem of division in the church
B. 5:1-13 problem of incestuous man
C. 6:1-11 lawsuits
D. 6:12-20 sexual immorality
II. Paul's response to a letter from the Corinthians.
A. 7:1-40 marriage
B. 8:1-11:1 food offered to idols
C. 11:2-16 public prayer and the head covering
D. 11:17-34 abuse of the Lord's Supper
E. 12-14 spiritual gifts
F. 15:1-58 the resurrection
G. 16:1-11 the collection
H. 16:12 the return of Apollos
5. Now we need to know what is the precise nature of each problem? (We will
now zero in on I Corinthians
C. We do the same thing as in "B" all over again with the
exception of number1.
1. First we need to read it in one setting in at least two different
taking notes of what Paul says specifically.
a. 1:10-12 the problem stated
b. 3:3 quarreling, strife
c. 4:6 on behalf of one against another
18-21 misjudging Paul
e. Wisdom is used 26 times in
chapters 1-3: God's vs. Man's
1) 1:18-22 cross
2) 1:26-31 choice of the Corinthian
3) 2:1-5 weakness of Paul's preaching
4) 2:6-9 wisdom of God
5) 2:10-16 nature of Paul's wisdom
2. What can we conclude from Paul's answer?
a. 1:18-3:4 they misunderstood the gospel
b. 3:5-23 they misunderstood the nature and function of church
c. 4:1-21 they were wrong about Paul and need to change
II. NOW LET US LOOK AT THE LITERARY CONTEXT. (Using I Corinthians
A. We need to think paragraphs or thoughts and ask ourselves the question, what
1. In one sentence what does Paul say in this paragraph
2. In a sentence or two, why is Paul saying this now?
B. In verses 3:5-9 the context deals with the nature and function of leaders -
1. Why does he use this metaphor? To make two points about leadership
(1).Both Paul and Apollos have a common cause
(2). Every thing and every one belong to God.
2. What is the point and how does it fit in his answer to the problem?
(1). Leaders are not lords we belong to
(2). They are servants with differing ministries who belong to God
C. In verses 3:10-15 the context deals with personal responsibility of leaders
1. Why does he use this metaphor? We will be tested how we build
2. Compare and contrast the metaphors. plants/ lays, waters/builds.
following leaders to how leaders build
3. What is the point and how does it fit in his answer to the problem? We should
follow blindly leaders and they need to be careful how they build
D. In verses 3:16-17 the context deals with the church as God's temple
1. Why does he use this illustration? To show the importance of the church.
2. What is the point and how does it fit in his answer to the problem? They can
temple with their quarreling