Introduction to 1st Corinthians (1 Corinthians series) Part 1
by John Lowe
THE FIRST EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS
The city of Corinth was famous for its wealth and bustling business community, which was mainly due to its location between the Ionian and Aegean Seas on the isthmus connecting the Peloponnese with Greece. In Paul's time it was the capital of the province of Achaia and the seat of the Roman proconsul’s government (see 1Acts 18:12). The condition of morals of this city was notorious for corruption and wickedness, even in the degenerate heathen world; so much so that "to Corinthianize" was a proverbial phrase for "to play the lustful and immoral." Corinth was invaded by all kinds of religions and philosophies. With this in mind, Paul was concerned for the purity of the Christian Church at Corinth. That Church was founded by Paul on his first visit (see Acts 18:1-17), but the city had gotten into the church; and that explained why there were so many problems. The believers in Corinth needed to heed Romans 12:2—And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.—and so do we today.
Paul, known as the apostle to the Gentiles was successful in converting many of them (21Co 12:2), and even some Jews (3Ac 18:8). He had been the instrument of God for converting many Gentiles and some Jews in spite of the passionate opposition of the Jewish leaders (4Ac 18:5), during the year and a half in which he ministered there. The converts were chiefly of the lower classes (51Co 1:26). Crispus (61Co 1:14; Ac 18:83), Erastus, and Gaius (Caius), however, were men of status (7Ro 16:23). A variety of classes is also implied in 81Co 11:22. Paul certainly had reasons for anxiety:
1. There was the risk of contamination by contact with the corruptions and temptations surrounding Christians; especially for the new converts.
2. There was the temptation to join with those who had a craving for Greek philosophy and oratory (which Apollos' excelled at, 9Ac 18:24), in contrast to Paul's simple preaching of Christ crucified (101Co 2:1).
3. There was the opposition of certain teachers to him, which naturally caused him anxiety.
4. And there were the Emissaries from the Judaizers of Palestine who boasted of "letters of commendation" from Jerusalem, the metropolis of the faith. They did not, it is true, insist on circumcision in refined Corinth, where the attempt would have been hopeless, as they did among the simpler people of Galatia; but they attacked the apostolic authority of Paul (111Co 9:1), some of them declaring themselves followers of Cephas, the chief apostle, others boasting that they belonged to Christ Himself (121Co 1:12), while they haughtily repudiated all subordinate teaching. Those persons falsely presented themselves as apostles (132Co 11:5, 13). The stance taken by them was that Paul was not one of the Twelve, and not an eye-witness of the Gospel facts, and that merely receiving assistance from the Christian Church doesn’t make him an apostle. Another group declared themselves followers of Paul himself, but they did so in a festive spirit, exalting Paul rather than Christ. Once again, there were the followers of Apollos, who undeservedly prized his Alexandrian learning and eloquence, to the belittling of Paul, who studiously avoided any deviation from Christian simplicity (141Co 2:1-5).
Immorality was common in Corinth and its church, where some denied the future resurrection, and adopted the motto, "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die" (151Co 15:32). It was from this attitude, perhaps, that an incestuous relationship continued in the so-called Christian body between a man and his stepmother, while his father lived. The household of Chloe informed Paul of many other evils: such as strife among members, splits from the church, and lawsuits brought against brethren in heathen law courts by professing Christians; the abuse of their spiritual gifts by some putting on a show and fanaticism; the interruption of public worship by simultaneous and disorderly activities, and respectability violated by women speaking while unveiled (contrary to Oriental tradition), and thereby assuming the office of men, and even the holy communion desecrated by greediness and reveling on the part of the church members. Other groups, from Corinth and the surrounding cities, consulted Paul on the subject of:
1. the controversy about meats offered to idols;
2. the disputes about celibacy and marriage;
3. the due exercise of spiritual gifts in public worship;
4. the best mode of making the collection which he had requested for the saints at Jerusalem (161Co 16:1). Such were the circumstances which are addressed in the
First Epistle to the Corinthians, the most varied in its topics of all the Epistles.
In 1Co 5:9, we read, "I wrote unto you in an Epistle not to company with fornicators;" it is implied that Paul had written a previous letter to the Corinthians (which has been lost). Probably in it he had also called upon them to make a contribution for the poor saints at Jerusalem, at which they seem to have asked for instructions on how to go about it, to which he now replies (17
1Co 16:2). It also probably announced his intention of visiting them on the way to Macedonia, and again on his return from Macedonia (18
2Co 1:15, 16), but he changed his mind after hearing the unfavorable report from Chloe's household.
2Co 13:1, he speaks of his intention of paying them a third visit, implying he had already visited them twice. It’s likely that during his three years' stay at Ephesus he would have revisited his Corinthian converts, which he could easily do by sea, since there was a constant flow of ships between the two cities. His second visit was probably a short one (compare 20
1Co 16:7); and it was painful and humiliating for him (21
2Co 2:1), due to the scandalous conduct of so many of his own converts. So far his criticism of the Corinthian church has been mild, and it failed to bring about the reformation he was seeking, therefore he wrote briefly directing them "not to company with fornicators." But when they failed to comprehend this injunction, he explained it more fully in his First Epistle, (1Co 5:9, 12*22). It is true that his second visit is not mentioned in Acts, however, that should not be ground for an objection to its having really taken place, because the book of Acts is fragmentary and omits other leading incidents in Paul's life; for example, his visit to Arabia, Syria, and Cilicia.
Corinth, like all other wealthy and well-located places, has often been a subject of contention between rival states; it has frequently changed masters, and undergone all forms of government. The Venetians held it until 1715, when the Turks took it from them; under whose dominion it has remained until the modern era. Under this deteriorating government, it was greatly reduced in wealth and size, its whole population amounting only to between 13 and 14,000 souls. It is currently in the hands of the Greeks, its natural owners. It lies about 46 miles to the east of Athens, and 342 south-west of Constantinople. A few vestiges of its ancient splendor still remain, which are objects of curiosity and enjoyment to all informed travelers.
We have seen that Corinth was well situated for trade, and consequently very rich, it is no wonder that, in its heathen state, it was exceedingly corrupt and extravagant. Apart from this, every part of Grecian learning was highly cultivated here; yet the inhabitants of it were as immoral as they were learned. Public prostitution formed a considerable part of their religion; and they were accustomed in their public prayers, to request the gods to multiply their prostitutes! And in order to express their gratitude to their deities for the favors they received, they bound themselves, by vows, to increase the number of such women; because using their services was neither considered sinful or disgraceful. Lais, was a Corinthian prostitute, whose price was not less than 10,000 drachmas. So notorious was this city for its prostitutes that the verb, to Corinthianize, signified to act like a prostitute; and a Corinthian damsel, meant a harlot. I mention these things because the apostle mentions them in his letters to this city, and without this knowledge of their previous Gentile state and customs, we could not comprehend his letter. It is true, as the apostle states, that they carried these things to an extent that was not practiced in any other Gentile country. And yet, even in Corinth, we see the Gospel of Jesus Christ prevailing over universal corruption, and there was planted a Christian Church!
FOUNDING OF CORINTH
It is supposed, by some, to have been founded by Sisyphus, the son of Eolus, and grandfather of Ulysses, about the year of the world 2490 or 2500, and before the Christian era. Others report that it got its origin and name from Corinthus, the son of Pelops. At first it was a very small town; but at last, through its extensive commerce, it became the most luxurious city in Greece, and the capital of a powerful state. It was destroyed by the Romans under Mummius, about 146 years before Christ, but afterward it was rebuilt by Julius Caesar.