Paul’s teachings speak to today’s tumultuous society

President Howard W. Hunter, then a member of the Quoruom of the Twelve, said: "This was the witness of Paul to the saints at Corinth, and the message applies to us in this day, living as we do in a world that can be compared in many ways to Corinth of old. In a society of turmoil, immorality, freethinking and questioning of the reality of God, we reach out for the simplicity of the gospel of Jesus Christ." (Conference Report, April 1969, p. 138.)

At times, the society in which we live can infiltrate our congregations.

Gospel principles as taught by Paul apply to modern-day issues such as intellectualism, inappropriate actions, immorality, indiscretion, insubmissiveness and insecurity.


The worldly influence of intellectual mentors infiltrated the early Christian Church at Corinth. The pride of the Corinthian saints in their personal mentors surfaced as they boasted of being baptized by the most reputed priest. They pitted one apostle against another in a kind of mentor one-upmanship: "Every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I am of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ" (1 Corinthians 1:12). Paul denounced their boasting: "I thank God that I baptized none of you" (v14). He explained that it is the message rather than the messenger that takes pre-eminence in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In the spirit of their Corinthian counterparts, some modern-day Church members who are also secular scholars suggest that the Church needs to change to fit the culture and intellectual climate in which it exists.

In 1993, then-Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve discussed having to deal with "the ever-present challenge from the so-called scholars or intellectuals." In Pauline fashion, Elder Packer, now Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve, explained, "The doctrines of the gospel are revealed through the Spirit to prophets, not through the intellect to scholars." (Elder Boyd K. Packer, "All-Church Coordinating Council Meeting," May 18, 1993.)


Corinthian Church teachers polluted pure doctrine by inappropriately bringing secular philosophies into Church meetings, espousing those ideas rather than the simple gospel. Paul had taught the gospel in its purity in Corinth; however, after he left, others improperly added the wisdom of men to the established doctrinal foundation. Paul responded: "As a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon" (3:9-10). The master builders are the apostles, who build upon the foundation of Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice. Joseph Smith taught: "The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it." (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976, p. 121.)


Paul had instructed in a previous epistle long lost to modern readers that individuals involved in fornication "should be handled for their membership." Some may mistakenly think that Paul was counseling Church members to avoid individuals of other faiths who did not share the same values. Rather, his message was that those who made sacred covenants must understand the seriousness of sexual perversion. There are behavioral requirements for membership in the kingdom of God. Corinthians were exposed to the same alternative lifestyles that now face Latter-day Saints, including fornication, adultery, and homosexuality (1 Corinthians 6:9). Paul used clear-cut terminology to inform modern and ancient libertines that you cannot wallow in the flesh, whether in heterosexual or homosexual relations, and remain in full fellowship in the Church.


Paul honored, loved and showed concern for women (see Philippians 4:3). The degradation of women did not come through Paul or the other original apostles. John Bristow enlightens us: "It was Socrates who immortalized the Athenian disdain toward women. Often referring to women as the 'weaker sex,' he argued that being born a woman is a divine punishment, since a woman is halfway between a man and an animal." (John T. Bristow, What Paul Really Said About Woman, San Francisco: Harper, 1988, p. 4.) As Greek philosophy pervaded the Christian Church's thinking, it not only accelerated the apostasy but also included an apostate perception of women.

In contradiction Paul taught, "Neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 11:11).


"Take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to them that are weak. For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol's temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols; And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?" (8:9).

Paul asks Christians to be discreet. He is not referring to the commandments but to those issues that have not been defined by the Brethren. Modern-day issues to which we can apply this Pauline principle include discretionary Sabbath activities, dress, dating practices, and a host of other issues. When in gray areas, we must each come to our own conclusions; but at the same time, as covenant Christians, we must be aware of how our interpretation affects others.


Aware that spiritual gifts increase one's feelings of worth, Paul taught that spiritual gifts are not achievements, though they do add to a developed life and a sense of worth. He encouraged the Saints to "covet earnestly the best gifts" (12:31). Paul related each gift to a member of the body: "There should be no schism in the body; but . . . the members should have the same care one for another" (12:25). Paul listed the spiritual gifts in pairs, showing they are to be used in conjunction with the gifts of others ultimately to bless each other's lives (12:5-10). He suggests: "When ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying" (14:26).

Paul makes it clear that the three gifts of faith, hope and charity are pre-eminent. One's self-worth is especially dependent on the possession of charity. This truth becomes clear when Paul discloses that if "I . . . have not charity, I am nothing" (13:2). Paul was not saying an individual lacking charity is worthless. Paul suggests that without charity, we will feel like nothing.

This article was exerpted from Mary Jane Woodger's address at the 2002 Sidney B. Sperry Symposium at BYU. Sister Woodger is assistant professor of Church History and Doctrine at BYU.