Introduction to 1 Corinthians

INTRODUCTION TO

1 CORINTHIANS

First Corinthians is the most literary of Paul’s letters. With a variety of stylistic devices—irony, sarcasm, rhetorical questions, alliteration, antithesis, personification, framing devices, hyperbole, repetition, picturesque words (with local color), double meanings, and other wordplays—Paul attempted to persuade his readers. He wanted to communicate to the Corinthians the necessity of accepting the Lord’s authority over their lives.

Corinth is located on the southwest end of the Isthmus of Corinth, a narrow land bridge connecting the mainland of Greece with the Peloponnesian Peninsula. Corinth was a maritime city located between two seaports: the port of Lechaion on the Gulf of Corinth about two miles to the north and the port of Cenchreae on the Saronic Gulf about six miles east of Corinth. In Paul’s day an overland ship road across the isthmus connected the ports of Lechaion and Cenchreae. Cargo from large ships was unloaded, transported across the isthmus, and reloaded on other ships. Small ships were moved across the isthmus on rollers. This enabled ships to avoid two hundred miles of stormy travel around the southern part of the Peloponnesian Peninsula.

Corinth is located on the southwest end of the Isthmus of Corinth, a narrow land bridge connecting the mainland of Greece with the Peloponnesian Peninsula. Corinth was a maritime city located between two seaports: the port of Lechaion on the Gulf of Corinth about two miles to the north and the port of Cenchreae on the Saronic Gulf about six miles east of Corinth. In Paul’s day an overland ship road across the isthmus connected the ports of Lechaion and Cenchreae. Cargo from large ships was unloaded, transported across the isthmus, and reloaded on other ships. Small ships were moved across the isthmus on rollers. This enabled ships to avoid two hundred miles of stormy travel around the southern part of the Peloponnesian Peninsula.

CIRCUMSTANCES OF WRITING

AUTHOR: First Corinthians ascribes Paul as its author (1:1; 16:21). Biblical scholars are almost unanimous that Paul wrote the letter. He wrote it during the last year of his three-year ministry at Ephesus, probably a few weeks before Pentecost in the spring of AD 56 (15:32; 16:8; Ac 20:31).

BACKGROUND: During Paul’s second missionary journey, he had a vision at Troas; he heard a man call to him, “Cross over to Macedonia and help us!” (Ac 16:9). That change in plans led Paul to Philippi, Thessalonica, Athens, and ultimately to Corinth (Ac 18:5). Paul ministered in Corinth for at least eighteen months (Ac 18:1-18). He left Corinth accompanied by Aquila and Priscilla (Ac 18:18), leaving them at Ephesus where they met and instructed “an eloquent man” named Apollos (Ac 18:24-26). Apollos then went to Corinth and had a powerful ministry there (Ac 18:27-19:1).

First Corinthians is the second letter that Paul wrote to the Corinthian church. He had written them an earlier letter, of which no extant copy exists, that included an admonition not to mix with the sexually immoral (5:9). The writing of this second letter (1 Corinthians) was prompted by oral reports from Chloe’s household about factional strife within the church (1:11). Paul had also received reports about an incestuous relationship among the membership (5:1), factions that arose during observance of the Lord’s Supper (11:18), and confusion over the resurrection of the dead (15:12). As a result, Paul addressed these issues in 1 Corinthians. Apparently as he was writing the letter, he received a letter from the Corinthians asking his opinion on various issues (7:1,25; 8:1; 12:1; 16:1). Therefore, he included his replies within this letter to the Corinthian believers.

MESSAGE AND PURPOSE

In all of Paul’s letters, except Galatians, the main theme of the letter can be identified by the content of the thanksgiving or by the stated reason for his giving thanks. The premise of each of his letters also is usually found in the salutation beginning the letter, as well as in the introductory prayers following the thanksgiving section. Within his prescript and thanksgiving of 1 Corinthians, true to his custom, Paul presented the main theme of his letter—that all believers belong to the Lord (1:2). Jesus is Lord; believers are his possession. For Paul, whatever issue was discussed, the answer to the issue was always addressed with a reminder of the Lord’s authority over them (1:2,10). He used more than seventy-five idioms from first-century slavery to speak about believers’ relationship to the Lord, their master. Those who call upon the name of the Lord (1:2) are those who call upon his name as a sign of submission. In 1 Corinthians, “name” (1:2,10,13; 5:4; 6:11) is almost always synonymous with “authority.”

Paul’s purpose in writing 1 Corinthians was to motivate the Corinthian church to acknowledge the Lord’s ownership of them and the implications this had in their lives. Key topics Paul addressed in this overarching theme of the ownership and authority of the Lord include Christian unity, morality, the role of women, spiritual gifts, and the resurrection.

CONTRIBUTION TO THE BIBLE

First Corinthians contributes greatly to our understanding of the Christian life, ministry, and relationships by showing us how the members of the church—Christ’s body—are to function together. Problems can arise in any church because the church is composed of sinful people (redeemed certainly, but still prone to follow the tug of sin). Paul gave specific solutions to specific problems, but the underlying answer to all these problems is for the church and its members to live Christ-centered lives. It all comes down to living under the lordship and authority of Christ, the head of his body (the church).

STRUCTURE

Paul’s writing is in the form of a letter, using the standard four parts of a first-century letter: salutation (1:1-3), thanksgiving (1:4-9), the main body (1:10-16:18), and a farewell (16:19-21). It is a pastoral letter, driven by the occasion and the present needs of the recipients.

Perhaps the most noteworthy feature of the way Paul structured his letter was his use of the word “about” to introduce a subject. It is apparent that “about” signals that Paul was responding to items on a list of questions that he had received—perhaps by way of a committee of men (16:17). These questions dealt with males and females in marriage (7:1); virgins (7:25); food offered to idols (8:1); spiritual gifts (12:1); the collection for the saints in Jerusalem (16:1); and Apollos (16:12).

OUTLINE

I.Greetings and Thanksgiving (1:1-9)

II.Problems in the Church (1:10-6:20)

A.Divisions and factions (1:10-4:21)

B.Gross immorality (5:1-13)

C.Litigation before pagan courts (6:1-11)

D.Fornication with prostitutes (6:12-20)

III.Replies to Questions from the Corinthians (7:1-14:40)

A.Questions about marriage (7:1-40)

B.Limitations of Christian liberty (8:1-11:1)

C.Veiling of women in public worship (11:2-16)

D.Disorderly behavior at the Lord’s Supper (11:17-34)

E.Exercise of spiritual gifts (12:1-14:40)

IV.The Resurrection of the Body (15:1-58)

A.Centrality of Christ’s resurrection (15:1-20)

B.Sequence of resurrection events (15:21-28)

C.The resurrection and suffering (15:29-34)

D.Nature of the resurrection body (15:35-49)

E.The believer’s victory over death (15:50-58)

V.Conclusion (16:1-24)

A.Collection for the believers at Jerusalem (16:1-4)

B.Paul’s plans for visiting Corinth (16:5-9)

C.Exhortations, instructions, and salutations (16:10-24)

1000-500 BC

Corinth is founded by Dorian Greeks. 1000

Corinth is ruled by Cypselus (657-627) and his son Periander. (627-585)

Periander mints Corinthian coins and constructs the diolkos, a five-foot-wide rock-cut path that ran four miles between two seaports, Lechaion on the Gulf of Corinth and Cenchreae on the Saronic Gulf. 600

The Isthmian games begin and are held every two years to honor Poseidon, the god of the sea. 582

Temple of Apollo is constructed. 550

500-50 BC

Corinth sides with Sparta and prevails against Athens in the Peloponnesian War. 430

Population of Corinth reaches 100,000. 400

Phillip II of Macedon conquers Corinth. 338

After Phillip II’s assassination, the Greeks at the Isthmian games choose Phillip’s son, Alexander the Great, to lead them in war with Persia. 336

The Corinthians attempt to resist Roman expansion in Greece and are destroyed by the Roman general Lucius Mummius. 146

50 BC-AD 50

Julius Caesar rebuilds Corinth as a colony of Rome naming it Colonia Laus Julia Corinthiensis. 44 BC

Augustus Caesar makes Corinth the capital of Achaia. 27 BC

Jesus’s trials, death, resurrection, and ascension Nisan 14-16 or April 3-5, AD 33

Pentecost AD 33

Saul’s conversion on the Damascus Road October AD 34

AD 50-100

Paul arrives in Corinth and spends eighteen months planting the church. 50-51

Paul’s hearing before Corinth’s proconsul, Gallio, brother of the Roman philosopher Seneca 51

Paul writes 1 Corinthians from Ephesus. 56

Paul writes 2 Corinthians from Ephesus. 56

Paul spends the winter in Corinth, from where he writes Romans. 57

Clement of Rome, the earliest of the apostolic fathers, sends a letter from Rome to the church at Corinth. This is thought to be the earliest Christian document outside the books of the New Testament. 96

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