What has Corinth to do with Patmos?

Devotional given at Wycliffe Associates for the assembled Translation Team, on Oct 7, 2015.

B2XX0G greece, dodecanese, patmos, psili ammos
Patmos, where John saw the beast rising from the sea

I am doing two tasks for Wycliffe at the moment – with my online group we are writing translation notes for 1 Corinthians and we have reached chapter 10. Here this week our group is working on Revelation and we are on chapter 10 there as well. These are two very different books, which leads to my title, with apologies to Tertullian: “What has Corinth to do with Patmos?”

Revelation, as we have seen, is filled with apocalyptic language.[1] When you read through it, you begin to notice that for every bright truth there is a dark parallel.

  • You belong to the Great Harlot, or you belong to the Bride of the Lamb;
  • you are a citizen of Mystery Babylon or a citizen of the New Jerusalem;
  • you have the mark of God on your forehead or the mark of the beast imprinted on your hand or forehead;
  • you follow the Lamb that was slain and later resurrected, or the beast who somehow managed to survive a fatal head wound;
  • you are a victim of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, or redeemed by the one who comes riding on his white horse, the Word of God who is called Faithful and True;
  • you are invited to the wedding banquet of the lamb, or you yourself will be a banquet for the vultures;
  • you will use your tongue to repent, or your will chew your tongue in agony.

We could mention a dozen more parallels, what are technically known as “literary foils.”

So, in Revelation, for every question, there are only two answers: the right one and the wrong one. Everything is cast in terms of black and white.

1 Corinthians is the other book where I am helping to write Translation Notes, and it is a very contrasting document! It is a different genre, of course, and that changes the style of writing, but it also has a different audience.

In Corinth, some of the believers can only think in terms of black and white. Everything is lawful!” some claim. Well and good, Paul says, but not everything is helpful. “It’s good for a man never to touch a woman!” some say, but Paul wants them to think through all the possibilities. These Corinthians are rigid but to no good purpose. I wouldn’t say that Paul wants them to think in terms of gray, but he does ask them to think of other colors than black and white, to have more nuance in their decisions. “Some of you should get married, some of you shouldn’t,” he says – there are several righteous options. “Be like me, he says, be all things to all people in order to win them to Christ!”

In Revelation, on the other hand, if you read the letters to the Seven Churches of Asia, you see that the main problem is compromise. They tolerate a false prophetess, they want to be Christians but not persecuted, they commit spiritual adultery. For them, the Lord speaking through John says, “You are neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm! But in Christ it must be all or nothing, black or white, and there is no third option.” So, you can wash your garments clean in the blood of the Lamb that was slaughtered, or you will be washed away by the river from the final slaughter, in the blood that flows as deep as the horses bridle. But you can’t have it both ways!

So Revelation says: the Christian life is black and white! And 1 Corinthians: the Christian life is nuanced!

Now, as a Christian I have a prior faith commitment that tells me that the perspective of both books, 1 Corinthians and Revelation, are God’s truth to us and that both ought to shape my life. One way ahead is to see one important common thread, the way of Love.

Before either book, our Lord spoke in the Olivet Discourse of signs of the end. We tend to remember the earthquakes, the wars, the famines, but one nearly-forgotten warning sign is, “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Matt 24:12-13) [2]

And don’t we see in Revelation, in the letter to the church of Ephesus that despite all of their fine service for the Lord, “You have lost your first love” (Rev 2:4), which I take to mean, the love they once had for one another. Their love has grown cold, which leaves us readers with foreboding when we remember Jesus’s warning and read in Revelation that the end might be at hand.

And of course Paul says in 1 Corinthians that love is the key to most of their church’s problems, and this is valid from chapter 1 onward. You don’t know what to do about meat sacrificed to idols, or about how to observe the Lord’s Supper, or whether you should sue another Christian? If you think in terms of Christian love, all will become clear!

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Cor 13:4-7).

Now, 1 Corinthians 13 is not just some nice poem that Paul thought to insert here. His point is entirely a concrete one: if you Corinthians truly loved one another, I wouldn’t have had to write you this long letter, and you would have been able to figure this all out by yourselves!

So whether we as individuals need to be more nuanced in our lives, or more black and white, all of these voices point us in the same direction, that love will show us the way forward.

I will close with part of the prayer that we use on our 1 Corinthians translation team:

Almighty God and merciful Father, let us love you with our whole being, and aid your workers in the task of translation in love, joy, peace, patience, humility, perseverance, and exactness.


[1] See for example my studies on “Gog of Magog is Dead – and I have seen his grave”; also “How to Calculate when Jesus will come – without even being a prophet” for a psychological study on those who set dates for the Second Coming, even after they fail repeatedly. See likewise, “Let’s Put a Warning Label on False Prophets.”

[2] I just started reading a fairly new book, American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism, by Matthew Avery Sutton, 2014 (available on Kindle). He argues that one of the reasons for our polarized life in the US is that the evangelical presence in politics is predicated on their belief that we must be in the End Times. Thus every battle is a life or death fight against the forces of darkness and there can be no compromise, no dialogue.

[3] I direct the reader to my essay “The Forgotten Sign of the End Times – Icy Relations between God’s People.”

“What has Corinth to do with Patmos?” By Gary S. Shogren, PhD in New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

Comments are closed.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: