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Rightly Understanding God’s Word: Whole-Book Context (Part 1 of 2), by Craig S. Keener

The Corinthian church was divided over a variety of issues. One such issue, addressed in chapters 12-14, was the use of some spiritual gifts. Paul reminds the Christians in Corinth that the purpose of all publicly used gifts is to build up the body of Christ. In chapter 14, he emphasizes that prophecy is more important in public worship than tongues, because it builds up the church better (unless the tongues is interpreted). Between these two chapters is chapter 13, revealing love as the key virtue that moves us to use all our gifts to build up Christ’s church.

Paul emphasizes that even if we have the greatest gifts, we are nothing without love (13:1-3). He points out that the gifts are temporary, due to pass away at Christ’s return when we see him face to face (13:8-10); love, however, is eternal (13:11-13). Between these two points he describes the characteristics of love—characteristics which, in the context of the entire book, directly address what the Corinthian Christians lack (13:4-8). Love is not jealous or arrogant or boastful (13:4), but the Corinthian Christians certainly were jealous (3:3) and arrogant (4:6, 18-19; 5:2; 8:1) and boastful (cf. 1:29; 3:21; 4:7; 5:6). In short, everything Paul says love is, he has already told the Corinthians they are not! Paul’s praise of love is simultaneously a gentle rebuke!

But just as love is our first priority, love tells us which gifts to seek most for the building up of Christ’s body. The verses immediately surrounding 1 Corinthians 13 remind us that we should seek from God for public worship especially the “greater” gifts, those like prophecy which build up others (12:31; 14:1).


Coming in Next Issue:

Whole-Book Context, Part 2

8. The Spirit-baptized life in Mk 1:8-13

9. How to Make Disciples in Matthew 28:18-20

10. Loyalty to the Death in John 13:34-35

11. Judah’s Punishment in Genesis 38

12. Rivers of Living Water in John 7:37-38

13. Moses’ Character in Exodus 6:10-30

14. Rebekah’s Deceit (Gen 27:5-10)

15. Casting Lots in Acts 1:26

Whole book interpretation principles


Editor’s Note
Professor Craig S. Keener originally designed this course on Hermeneutics for use in Nigeria and not for traditional publication. Desiring to make it available to a wider audience, he has granted permission to publish this course in the Pneuma Review. Dr. Keener grants permission for others to make use of this material as long as it is offered without cost or obligation and that users acknowledge the source.

Portions of this course follow these recommended works: How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart (Zondervan). Revelation, NIV Application Commentary by Craig S. Keener (Zondervan, 1999).


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Category: Biblical Studies, Winter 2004

About the Author: Craig S. Keener, Ph.D. (Duke University), is F. M. and Ada Thompson Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He is author of many books, including Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts (Baker Academic, 2011), the bestselling IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels, Gift and Giver: The Holy Spirit for Today, and commentaries on Acts, Matthew, John, Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, and Revelation. In addition to having written more than seventy academic articles, several booklets and more than 150 popular-level articles, Craig is is the New Testament editor (and author of most New Testament notes) for the The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. He is married to Dr. Médine Moussounga Keener, who is from the Republic of Congo, and together they have worked for ethnic reconciliation in North America and Africa. Craig and Médine wrote Impossible Love: The True Story of an African Civil War, Miracles and Hope against All Odds (Chosen, 2016) to share their story. Twitter: @keener_craig

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