THE CITY OF CORINTH
Corinth was a very important city in Greece during the time of the Roman Empire. It was the capital of the province called Achaia. It was a city with many visitors and much trade. Corinth was located on a narrow strip of land called an “isthmus” which connected northern and southern Greece. People passing between northern and southern Greece would have to pass through Corinth. Also people traveling between Rome and the eastern part of the empire would commonly pass through Corinth and carry their goods through Corinth. Because of its position, Corinth was known as the city of two seas. Corinth was a city of wealth but also a city of sin. The city had a reputation throughout the empire of being an immoral city. To tell someone that he was “living like a Corinthian” meant that he was living a rotten, sinful life. Drunkenness and sexual immorality thrived in Corinth. Corinthians worshipped especially the god Poseidon, the god of the sea, and Aphrodite, goddess of love. Heathen worship and immorality thrived together. Corinth was also known for its love of learning, philosophy, and oratory, the art of speech-making.
THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH AT CORINTH
Paul visited Corinth for the first time on his second missionary journey. Acts 18 tells of his one and a half year stay in Corinth. He met Aquila and Priscilla there and worked for a while with these two Christians at tent-making. At the same time he preached to the Jews in the synagogue every Sabbath that Jesus was the Messiah. When Paul’s message was rejected by the Jews, he turned to the Gentiles. Many of the Corinthians who heard Paul’s preaching believed and were baptized. Besides Aquila and Priscilla, among the believers at Corinth were Justus, Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his whole family. Silas and Timothy also joined Paul in Corinth. Some of the Corinthian Jews made an attack against Paul, charging him with persuading people to worship God in an unlawful way. But the proconsul of Achaia, Gallio, refused to try Paul in court because the charges against Paul dealt with Jewish laws. After a year and a half of teaching the word of God at Corinth, Paul sailed for Syria. Sometime after Paul left Corinth, Apollos, a Jewish Christian from Alexandria, came to Corinth and was a great help to the church. When Paul was in Ephesus on his third missionary journey, he wrote a letter to the Corinthians urging them not to associate with immoral people who claim to be Christians (1 Cor. 5:9). This letter is lost to us. The Corinthians replied in a letter and asked advice on certain problems in the church. Paul then wrote a second letter to the Corinthians from Ephesus. This letter is our 1 Corinthians. Then it seems that Paul made a quick trip to Corinth and back to Ephesus. This would have been his second visit to Corinth (2 Cor. 12:14 and 2 Cor. 13:1). Paul then sent another “lost letter” to the Corinthians urging them to discipline one of Paul’s enemies in the church (2 Cor. 2:4,7-8). After Paul went on to Macedonia during his third missionary journey, Paul wrote a fourth letter to the Corinthians. This is our 2 Corinthians. Then after spending some time in Macedonia, Paul spent three months in Greece (Achaia) [Acts 20:2-3]. Most of that time was probably spent in Corinth. On this visit to Corinth, Paul wrote his Letter to the Romans. We do not know if Paul ever visited Corinth again.
PAUL’S CONTACT WITH THE CORINTHIAN CHRISTIANS
All of these letters and visits may seem a bit confusing at first. Perhaps this summary of Paul’s contacts with the church at Corinth will help clear up matters: 1.Paul establishes the church at Corinth on his second missionary journey, as related in Acts 18. 2.Paul writes a letter to the Corinthians telling them not to associate with immoral church members (see[1 Cor. 5:9]). This letter is lost. 3.While on his third missionary journey at Ephesus, Paul writes a second letter to the Corinthians. This is our 1 Corinthians. 4.Paul makes a quick trip from Ephesus to Corinth and back to Ephesus. This “quick trip” is not mentioned in Acts, but is implied from 2 Cor. 12:14, 13:1 . 5.Paul sends a third letter to the Corinthians concerning disciplining one of Paul’s enemies at Corinth. This letter is lost to us. [2 Cor. 2:4, 7-8]. 6.Paul writes a fourth letter to the Corinthians while in Macedonia. This is our 2 Corinthians [2 Cor. 7:5-6]. 7Paul visits Corinth for the third time [Acts 20:2-3].
THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS
WHERE AND WHEN WRITTEN: from Ephesus on third missionary journey; about 56 or 57 A.D.
PAUL’S PURPOSES FOR WRITING 1 CORINTHIANS:
1.Paul wanted to respond to a letter which the Corinthians had sent him. Their letter is referred to in 7:1 and 8:1. They had asked Paul questions that needed answers. 2.Paul had received verbal reports about the condition of the congregation in 1 Corinth (7:1; 16:17). Some of the reports told of problems in the church that needed addressing.
THE CONTENTS OF 1 CORINTHIANS:
1.The problem of divisions in the church at Corinth (1-4) Some were saying, “I follow Paul”; others, “I follow Apollos”; and others, “I follow Peter.” Paul had to remind them that Christ alone is the Lord of the church and that Christian teachers are only his servants. The church is united under Christ and must not divide itself over Christ’s servants. 2.The problem of an immoral brother living in incest (5) A member of the church was living in sin with his stepmother. Paul writes that the man should be expelled (excommunicated) from the church so that he may see his sin and repent. 3.The problem of lawsuits among believers (6) Paul says that disputes among Christians should not have to be settled by heathen judges. It is better that a Christian be cheated by his brother rather than bring a lawsuit against him. 4. Questions about marriage (7) Paul answers a number of questions about living a single life, marrying, divorcing, remarrying, etc. 5.Questions about the believer’s freedom (8-10) Paul writes that there are many things which a believer has the Christian freedom to do; but love for a weak brother will sometimes keep him from using his Christian freedom. Everything is permissible, Paul says; but not everything is beneficial for others. The question of whether a Christian should eat meat sacrificed to idols will have to be answered through love and consideration for weak Christians. 6.The problem of disorder in the public worship services (11) The proper dress for women in public worship and the proper celebration of the Lord’s Supper are discussed. 7.The use of spiritual gifts (12-14) Paul discusses especially the use of the gift of tongues. He says that Christian love is the gift that should especially be cultivated. 8.The question of the resurrection (15) Some in the Corinthian church had said that there is no resurrection of the dead. Paul writes clearly that just as Christ rose, so Christians will rise with glorified bodies. 9.The question about a collection (16) Paul writes instructions about gathering the special offering for Christians in Jerusalem. Then he closes with some personal requests and his final greetings.
THEME AND OUTLINE
As is true with most letters, it is difficult to give a logical outline for 1 Corinthians. The nine points listed above may serve as a “rough outline.” Perhaps this theme would cover 1 Corinthians: “PAUL ADDRESSES THE PROBLEMS AND QUESTIONS OF THE CHURCH AT CORINTH.”
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