Thrust Statement: God desires that His people be united in purpose.

Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:10

I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought (1 Corinthians 1:10).[1]

Since this Scripture (1 Corinthians 1:10) is appealed to by almost every faction within the Churches of Christ to uphold its separation from other believers, it is necessary to analyze this quotation in order to understand what Paul sought to communicate to the Christians at Corinth. The objective in this essay is not to condemn the men who espouse this incorrect interpretation, but rather, the purpose in this article is to help individuals to understand the intent behind the words of Paul in order to bring about unity for which Jesus Christ prayed (John 17).

The words of Paul to the Corinthians are manipulated by many Christians to justify their separation from other believers. This citation is employed by many well-meaning Christians to require conformity to a particular division within the Christian community.  The battle cry among many saints is: “agree with us or face excommunication.”  The more familiar quotation of this text is from the King James Version: “speak the same thing.” With the voice of confidence, this Scripture is called forth to try to get everyone back into line with the status quo.

But what does this well-known phrase mean? Does Paul set forth the suggestion that every Christian must understand every passage of Scripture without distinction or differences? Is Paul advancing the notion that there can never be disagreements over doctrinal matters? Each faction of God’s people cites this verse to substantiate its divisive spirit. The current interpretation among many believers is an exhibition of exegetical dogmatism. In order to set the stage for a more accurate reading of Paul’s now famous citation, it is necessary to give illustrations of how many equally God fearing individuals who rely upon the same passage to validate their severance from others who do not kowtow to smuggled interpretations into the text.

EXAMPLES OF MISUSE OF FIRST CORINTHIANS 1:10

Old Paths Advocate

            On December 1, 1932, Homer L. King (1892-1983), editor of the Old Paths Advocate (one-cup and non-Sunday school fellowship) cited 1 Corinthian 1:10 as justification for his sectarian position on rejection of other Christians who refuse to acquiesce to his odd interpretations of the Scriptures.[2]  In this article, King calls attention to things that he objects to, but which other Christians do participate in. For instance, he writes:

Is it not a fact that we are pretty well agreed on the things taught in the New Testament, but divided over the things not taught therein? Where in the New Testament do we read about Bible college, instrumental music in the worship, the Sunday school with its human literature, classes, the modern pastorate, the multiplied societies to do the work of the church, and a plurality of drinking cups for each congregation? Are not these the major things over which we are divided? Did the church in the first century have these things? Was there ever a period of time in the history of the church, that greater progress was made?[3]

            According to King, in order for unity to exist among the people of God, then one must conform to his comprehension of the Scriptures. If one disagrees with his interpretation, then one is not adhering to Paul’s admonition:

Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment (1 Corinthians 1:10).[4]

Today, sixty-eight years later, this one-cup and non-Sunday school movement is divided into many warring factions.[5] This group is divided into the bread-breakers and bread-pinchers, wine only versus the grape juice only, baptisteries versus non-baptisteries in the church building, the passing of the collection basket versus going to the communion table to “lay” by one’s gift, the order of worship versus no required sequence for the so-called acts of worship  (Acts 2:42), non-celebration of Christmas versus the Christmas’ celebrators, divorce and remarriage versus the no-divorce for any reason, and so on.  Why so much division?

Each faction and fraction of this one-cup movement cites this Scripture to others in order to bring about unity. But how is unity achieved according to this movement? Not on Jesus, but on the bizarre, or weird, understanding of some little group of believers. The motto of each fellowship is: “speak the same thing.” But what does it mean to “speak the same thing”? Well, it simply means this: agree with my brand of orthodoxy or face expulsion from the group. The OPA group is notorious for its factious spirit. It is my way, or no way at all. Remember, the Scripture says, “speak the same thing.”

            As a result of this same mind-set, King’s son, Don King, now editor of the OPA, writes: “Listen, brethren: we believe it is wrong to use more than one cup. We believe people are going to be lost for using more than one cup.”[6] Again, Kevin W. Presley, also associated with OPA fellowship, lambaste the position on “fellowship in diversity” as being in violation of 1 Corinthians 1:10:

The say that since we can’t agree upon the doctrines of our Lord, then they are irrelevant to our fellowship. . . . Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:10, “Now I beseech you, brethren by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that ye all SPEAK the same thing, and that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”[7]

The Restorer

            One cannot limit this stretching of the text to just the one-cup believers, but this straightforward reading, without consideration of the context, is widespread among other hostile groups. One such writer for another camp is David L. Miller. In The Restorer, as guest editorial writer, he bemoans the fact that many advance the notion that the only kind of unity that is possible among believers is “unity in diversity.”  He says, “Such an attitude over looks important biblical principles.”[8] One of the biblical principles he cites is 1 Corinthians 1:10. He correctly states, “Contentions sidetrack individuals from focusing upon Christ and His Word (1 Cor. 1:10-18).”

Miller is on target in his statement about “contentions sidetrack individuals,” but, Miller, on the other hand, advances the notion in his essay that in order for unity to exist, then brethren must agree on doctrinal matters.  Again, he writes: “the superficial, blind grasping for unity-at-all-cost mentality fails to recognize that division will always exist! According to the Bible, there will never be the kind of unity which some are compromising to achieve.”[9] This statement about unity is an overstatement concerning “unity-at-all-cost.” Ultimately, Miller believes that in order for one to be in conformity to 1 Corinthians 1:10, then one must accept his understanding of the Scripture in order not to be sidetracked. But this philosophy is rather naive.  The Old Paths Advocate writers will not fellowship The Restorer writers. The Restorer writers will not fellowship the Old Paths Advocate writers. How do they justify rejection of each other? Yes, 1 Corinthians 1:10 is utilized to bolster their position of departure.

J. Cleo Scott, another writer for The Restorer, writes an article on who can be fellowshipped. He, too, cites 1 Corinthians 1:10 to encourage an interpretation that he has, as well as many others, latched on to this favorite passage to maintain his traditions. He utilizes this Scripture against Christians who advocate the use of instruments in praise to God. It is in this regard that he pens:

If one attempts to worship God by singing with an instrument invented by man, he is NOT walking in the light, nor walking by faith. Therefore, the child of God cannot walk with (have fellowship with) one who does. The same is true of many other religious innovations such as wearing robes, lighting candles, eating the Lord’s supper on Thursday, etc. When my brother joins himself to a religious group that does not walk in the light, then I cannot have fellowship with that brother. He is an erring brother and must be withdrawn from.[10]

Having said this, he seeks justification for his actions toward those who cannot accept his twisting of the Scriptures; he cites 1 Corinthians 1:10 to give substance, so he thinks, to his allegations about who is or who is not walking in the light. If you agree with Scott, then you are walking in the light. If you disagree with Scott, then you are walking in darkness. Scott has been shaped by his traditions, not the Word of God. The Churches of Christ need to do some rethinking in this area. The methods employed in the field of hermeneutics by many Church of Christ editors and writers need a theological overhaul. Much of what they say cannot be justified by the context.

The Spiritual Sword

            This paper, like The Restorer, advances the same type scenario that Churches of Christ, as a whole, advance in order to maintain their so-called purity—“we are the only ones that are true to the Word of God.” Goebel Music seeks to prove, at least to himself, that men can agree on his concept of pattern theology, that is to say, his understanding of the so-called five acts of worship to be performed on Sunday morning in a so-call worship service. He issues a challenge to those who espouse “Unity in Diversity” and demands that all agree on doctrinal matters.  He asserts: “Proving and accepting ‘pattern’ theology. Man can speak the same thing (1. Cor. 1:10).”[11]

            Jerry Moffitt also relies upon his interpretation of 1 Corinthians 1:10 to advance his objections to “unity in diversity,” which the Scriptures advance in spite of his hostility. Moffitt deals with this Scripture in the same haphazard way he employs other Scriptures in his short article. One stands amazed at the carelessness that Moffitt exhibits in his handling so many texts of Scripture. Before one can understand a particular verse, one must seek to be aware of the whole. It is common sense to realize that one must interpret a verse in a book in light of its whole.  One must comprehend the entire work before one can identify with or interpret a particular narrative or individual text. Two men, within the Churches of Christ, became aware of the context of 1 Corinthians 1:10 and called attention to current abuse of this passage to clobber other believers.

            He poses the following question: “Will not adherence to God’s word promote unity rather than division and diversity?”[12]  Yes, God’s Word does promote unity among believers, but this same Word also allows for diversity within God’s community. The subtlety of Moffitt is again seen in his statement: “The sheer truth is, God not only gave us a faith (Jude 3), he expects us to be able to main UNITY when we receive that faith (Jn. 17:21; I Cor. 1:10; Phil. 3:16).”[13] The assumption on the part of Moffitt is that the “faith” that Jude speaks of is the interpretation that Moffitt attaches to the Scriptures. Each faction—over twenty-five divisions—claims Jude 3 as its own property. 

Again, he says, “Love will cause us to walk in the light (I John 1:7), hold the pattern of sound words (II Tim. 1:13), and all speak the same things (I Cor. 1:10).”[14] One more he assumes that “to walk in the light” is to interpret the Scriptures according to his own interpretative community; he also identifies “sound words” as conformity to his brand of orthodoxy; and finally, he surmises that all believers can and will interpret the Scriptures the same. But, in all of his explanations, he never once analyzes the context; he just assumes that the authors are agreeing with his understanding of Scripture.

            As one seeks to understand 1 Corinthians 1:10, one must consider the point of view of the author, that is to say, the meaning of the author. A second factor in correction interpretation is that one must examine the intended reader, that is, the readers whom the author had in mind; and finally, the ideal reader, that is to say, the reader who has sufficient information to interpret the writings correctly. Since the author spoke for God, then the writer’s point of view and God’s point of view are the same.  It is obvious that the authors of the New Testament books, as well as the Old Testament books, assume that the readers will read the whole of his work in order to understand the particulars. Before one can embark upon the meaning of a particular verse, one must consider the overall meaning of the book. Even though I respect the above brethren, nevertheless, one must dissent emphatically from their teachings on 1 Corinthians 1:10.  One’s ignorance of the context can lend an air of plausibility to their interpretation.

Mission Messenger

            In 1965, Carl Ketcherside wrote an article that exploded like wild fire within the denominational Churches of Christ. He attacked the traditional interpretation of 1 Corinthians 1:10.  He himself had earlier used this Scripture to hack to death anyone who disagreed with his understanding of God’s Word.  When Ketcherside went back to the context of this often-cited verse, he discovered that this Scripture was written to bring about unity, not division.  Ketcherside states the matter firmly:

Since every faction in the Christian spectrum, exists on the basis of a special emphasis, either upon a particular scripture or a specific idea, what is the basis for the cult of conformity and order of orthodoxy with the restoration movement of which we are heirs? I think it can be said without fear of denial that the basis of operation centers around 1 Corinthians 1:10. It is a twisting, warping and wresting of this scripture which leads them astray. It is astonishing that a passage written to offset division should be given an interpretation which will open and aggravate numerous festering wounds without ever closing a single one.[15]

This article is an in-depth discussion of the context of Paul’s statement to the Corinthians. He correctly calls attention to the fact that the statement (speak the same thing) has nothing to do with conformity of opinion or interpretation.[16] This letter allows for differences within the body.  Paul’s letter to Corinth was designed to heal a gap that existed within the fellowship. He did not advance the notion that unity of opinion was prerequisite to unity or acceptance of one another. Just a casual glance at chapter eight reveals that Paul refutes the general interpretation placed upon 1 Corinthians 1:10. There is room for differences within the body of Christ, but there is no room for division.

Restoration Review

            In 1976, Leroy Garrett also addressed 1 Corinthian 1:10. He begins his analysis by asking several questions: “Does this passage enjoin believers to see everything in the Bible alike? Does it teach that we must see eye to eye on all points of doctrine, that there can be no honest differences of opinion?”[17] In this essay, Garrett reveals the many issues that sincere Christians are divided over. After a brief listing of the many divisions within the Churches of Christ, he concludes that “1 Cor. 1:10 is made to apply only to those items that are peculiar to a particular segment.”[18]

            Many Christians are reluctant to reject ancient traditions, even when new evidence demonstrates that the old interpretation is not tenable. It is not uncommon for believers to jump to unfounded conclusions without looking at the context. Once more, Garrett puts it graphically: “The truth is that 1 Cor. 1:10, as abused in this manner, never has been, is not now, nor will it ever be consistently practiced by any believer. The reason is simple: it is impossible.”[19] Just a casual glance at 1 Corinthian reveals that sameness of viewpoint is not in Paul’s mind (1 Corinthians 8).  In this letter, Paul never calls for conformity, but rather, he calls for love (1 Corinthians 13). The only kind of unity that Paul addresses in the church at Corinth is unity in diversity.

CONCLUSION

            One should always hesitate before superimposing upon 1 Corinthians 1:10 his/her own speculative and subjective interpretation. If a biblical text is torn out of its biblical context, this verse can be heard to say things that need to be checked by reference to the total revelation of Scripture. This essay has no desire to attack those who follow a path without context. This author is conscious that many expositors are no doubt good and godly men/women; but still, there are interpretations that may not, for all their sincerity, ring true to the biblical revelation itself. The position of this paper is to not to condemn but to seek to lead Christians into a clearer understanding of God’s Word. According to some, as noted above, their collective judgments, or interpretations, establish God’s truth in unchangeable monument. In other words, their decisions are free from error.



[1] All Scripture citations are from The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984, unless otherwise noted. 

[2] See Homer L. King, “CAN’T WE AGREE ON SOMETHING,” Old Paths Advocate LV, no. 10 (November 1, 1983): 1, 6.

[3] Ibid., 6.

[4] The King James Version, (Cambridge: Cambridge) 1769. 

[5] For a brief history of this strange religious movement, see Dallas Burdette, “A Brief History of the One-cup and Non-Sunday School Movement” [ON-LINE]. Available from http://www.freedominchrist.net [accessed 3 February 2001], located under caption SERMONS AND ESSAYS  and then under the subheading THE LORD’S SUPPER

[6] Don L. King, “Editorial: Proper Perspective,” Old Paths Advocate LXVII, no. 9 (September 1995): 2.

[7] Kevin W. Presley, “NEO-DENOMINATIONALISM IN THE CHURCH OF CHRIST,” Old Paths Advocate LXVII, no. 9 (September 1995): 1.

[8] David L. Miller, “Division,” The Restorer  6, no. 8 (August 1986): 2.

[9] Ibid.

[10] J. Cleo Scott,  “Whom May I Fellowship,” The Restorer 6, no. 10 (October 1986): 4.

[11] Goebel Music, “The Challenge of ‘Unity in Diversity,’” The Spiritual Sword 12, no. 1 (October 1980): 20.

[12] Jerry Moffitt, “IS UNITY-IN-DIVERSITY POSSIBLE?”,  The Spiritual Sword 15, no. 1 (October 1983): 18.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid., 19.

[15] Carl Ketcherside, “Conformity or Diversity,” Mission Messenger 27, no. 7 (July 1965): 101.

[16] Ibid., 102.

[17] Leroy Garrett, “That You All Speak the Same Thing,” Restoration Review 15, no. 5 (May 1976): 282.

[18] Ibid., 283.

[19] Ibid.