The “missing” letter from the Corinthians to Paul (1 Corinthians 7)

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Before composing 1 Corinthians Paul received information about the Corinthian church. He mentioned personal reports “from Chloe’s household” (1 Corinthians 1:11) and spoke of a letter from the Corinthians that Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaius had probably delivered (7:1). No copies of this missing letter apparently remain extant, but it likely included questions about marriage, food sacrificed to idols, worship, resurrection, Paul’s collection for Jerusalem relief, and Apollos. Paul answered the Corinthian believers’ questions on each of these matters, utilizing the phrases “Now for…” or “Now about…” when taking up a new topic (v. 1, 8:1, 12:1, 16:1, 12). In some cases it is unclear whether Paul was quoting the Corinthians’ own statements in order to correct them (7:1b, 8:1b) or whether these phrases reflect his own teaching.

As an apostle responsible for the care of churches spread across the Roman empire, Paul had no doubt carried on a lively correspondence with those churches throughout his career. When we recognize that his letters were not written as abstract theological treatises but often as responses to specific problems within the context of specific church situations, we can better understand the lessons these letters contain. It is pointless to speculate on the possible significance of finding one of Paul’s lost letters. The chances of this happening are miniscule, and the canon of the New Testament, at any rate, is closed.


 

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