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TNT008  First Corinthians

First Corinthians


The City of Corinth. 

The Corinth of the New Testament days was not the same city as the Corinth of Ancient Greece, though situated at the same place. Ancient Corinth was destroyed by the Romans in B.C. 146. Exactly a century later, in B.C. 46, Julius Caesar founded a new city, a Roman Colony.

It was founded for military reasons and at first was populated, not by Greeks, but by Italians, Caesar's veterans and freedmen. Gradually, Greeks, Orientals and Jews began to gravitate towards the city and by the time of Paul it was again largely Greek in character, the language was mainly Greek and the population was very mixed in nationality.

Corinth was the capital of the Roman Province of Achaia and, because of its geographical position, became an important centre of commerce and a wealthy city. It was situated near the Western shore of the Isthnus of Corinth at the eastern end of the long arm of the sea which stretches in from the Adriatic and almost divides Greece into two.

There was no canal across the Isthmus in those days, but there was a device whereby all but the largest ships wore hauled by a trolley across the Isthmus to Cenchreae, the port of Corinth on the eastern shore. Ships found this route better than sailing round the south of Greece, even if, owing to the size of ship, the cargo had to he transferred on to another ship at Cenchraea.

Almost all the trade from Italy to Ephesus and Asia Minor went via Corinth. Other things that added to the city's wealth, importance and popularity were its beautiful position, its fine buildings (among the finest of the ancient world), the high standard of its intellectual persuits, and the fact that every year the Games were held nearby under the aegis of the city. Some of the finest athletes were attracted to these.

Amidst all this there was a perpetual fair held all the year round and the city became proverbial for wealth, luxury and profligacy. The old city had been famous for its licentiousness, and the new city had in New Testament times the same reputation. It was the "Vanity Fair" of the ancient world.

A.M.Hunter says that in New Testament times Corinth suggested to the popular mind "culture and courtesans.....'Corinthian words' implied pretensions to philosophy and letters, and 'to Corinthianize' was polite Greek for 'go to the devils". The Epistle to the Romans was written from Corinth and Romans 1:21-23 was not theory, but what he was seeing before his very eyes in the city where he was.

II. The Church at Corinth.

It was such a city as this and in such an atmosphere that Paul founded the church. It was probably not particularly  because of its immorality that paul went there but because of its strategic position and cosmopolitan character.

He arrived at Corinth from Athens during his second missionary journey probably towards the end of A.D. 52. Things were not going by any means easily. There was trouble and persecution in Thessalonica;there had been little response at Athens and so he entered Corinth, as he tells us with fear and trembling.(1 Cor.2:3.) 

He lodged with Aguila and Priscilla. These Jews had on expelled from Rome by Claudius and were tent makers like himself. He was encouraged by good news from Thessalonica and was "pressed in spirit" to declare the Gospel (Acts l8:5). He began preaching in the synagogue but, owing to opposition from the Jews, hoe moved next door to the house of Justus and began preaching to the Gentiles.  

Crispus,  the chief ruler of the Synagogue, and his household were saved but no other Jews are mentioned by name in the Acts of the Apostles, unless Aquila and Priscilla are included (there is doubt as to whether they became Christians in Corinth or before they left Rome).

There were undoubtably only a few Jews in the Corinthian church, most of whom were Gentiles and, apparently also, Gentiles from the class of manumitted slaves of whom there were so many in Corinth. Such names as we have of Christians there point to this,Tertius, Quartus, Achaicus, Fortunatus.

Paul remained eighteen months and during that time the church grew. Many of the converts may have been from the body of devout pagans who were so often attached loosely to the synagogue, having an admiration for Judaism but not really satisfied by it. Some were obviously people of substance. In Rom.16:23 Gaius is spoken of as "mine host, and of the whole church" and in the same verse we read of Erastus who was the "Chamberlain of the city". 

(The epistle to the Romans was written from Corinth). Most of the church, however, were very ordinary people as we gather from Paul's words in the first chapter, "Not many wise after the flesh, not many mightY, not many noble....".

It is probable that things did not go easily with this young church. At some time or another Aquila and Priscilla were in danger on Paul's behalf (Rom.l6:3) and the occasion was most likely at Corinth. No doubt also the vision mentioned in Acts 18:3 was given because of the danger and difficulty of the battle.

Matters came to a head when Paul was brought before Gallio. He ruled that the matter in question was not one for his jurisdiction and so the immediate danger from the authorities ceased. The party spirit of which we read in the epistle shows that other teachers must have followed Paul.

III. The Authenticity of Integrity.

No serious doubt has over been entertained concerning the authenticity and integrity of this first letter. This is one of the epistles which almost everyone has accepted without question. Robertson and Plumner in their commentry say, "Both the external and internal evidence for the Pauline authorship are so strong that those who attempt to show, that the Apostle was not the writer succeed chiefly in proving their own incompetence as critics."

Internally the epistle bears the marks of the apostle's style and reasoning. The facts and circumstances fit in with what we know of the Corinthian Church from the Acts of the apostles. External evidence is found before the close of the first century. Clement of Rome quotes it by name in his epistle to the Corinthians.

It is quoted by Ignatius and Polycarp. After this it is frequently referred to, probably more than any other of Paul's epistles. In the Muratorian Canon and in other lists it is quoted first among the Pauline epistles.

IV. Paul`s relationship with the Corithian Church and the circustances surrounding this epistle.

The events which took place after Paul's leaving Corinth the first time are not absolutely clear and there is more than one opinion concerning then. It seems certain from 1 Cor.5.9 that a letter was written before the first epistle which we have.

Likewise 2 Cor 2:12-14 and 13:1-2 seem to point to a third visit apart from the two of which we have an account. In addition to this 2 Cor.2 refers to a very severe letter written by Paul which does not seem to fit in with the contents of 1 Corinthians, thus implying that there was still another letter which has been lost.

Some commentators place a severe letter between the two which we possess and some would say that the latter part of 2 Corinthians is the severe letter which has got misplaced. As far as we are concerned this latter view is untenable, since there is not the slightest manuscript evidence to account for it and because it makes faith in the Word of God a very doubtful affair.

The severe portion at the and of 2 Corinthians is addressed to the minority who are still militantly opposed to Paul and not to the main body of the church who had heeded his warnings and advice and were all for him.

As to the visits, some place the extra visit before the first letter mentioned in I Cor.5:99 and some between the two letters which we have. There are some who say that it was only an intended visit which never eventuated. This theory is based on the R.V.M. of 2 Cor.13:2.
The account of the events which seems most probable is as follows:

  1. Paul leaves Corinth.
  2. Apollas returns there and greatly helps them.
  3. Other teachers arrive not completely in symathy with Paul probably Judaizers.
  4. Paul hears of things being wrong in the church and writes the lost letter of 1 Cor.5.9   probably while at Ephesus.
  5. They seem to take no heed of this latter. Further news comes of trouble and also a letter from the church asking; for advice on certain matters.
  6. As the situation seems to be growing serious, Paul sends Timothy, (either before or after receiving the above letter) - (1 Cor,4:17 & 16:10 ).
  7. Paul sends our first epistle to the Corinthian Church by the hand of Titus.
  8. The situation grows worse. Not only are things wrong in the Church but Paul's authority is being questioned. (Although we have no definite evidence, this seems to have been the trouble.)
  9. Paul decides to visit. An actual visit seems far more likely to be the meaning of the words in 2 Cor.12:14 and 13:1-2. This was quite possible. Sailings were frequent except in winter months and with favourable winds could be accomplished in a week or less. It apparently proved to be a very painful visit.
  10. Though there has been plain speaking, matters have not really been settled.
  11. Paul decides to write again. This is the severe letter and was carried by Titus.
  12. The riot takes place at Ephesus over Diana of the Ephesians. Paul has to leave the city.
  13. He goes to Troas and then over into Macedonia eagerly awaiting the return of Titus (2 Cor.2:12 etc.)
  14. Titus arrives with the good news that on the whole, all is well.
  15. Paul writes our second epistle.
  16. He follows this up with his final visit in the third journey.

We have not sufficient evidence to be able to say dogmatically that this is exactly what did transpire, but this seems to be the probable course of events. We cannot discuss the matter further as it really concerns the second epistle more than the first and this is not our particular study.

V. The Date and immediate occasion of the first epistle.

From 1 Corinthians 15:32 ad 16:8,9 & 19 it is clear that the epistle was writtenfrom Ephesus. Two occasions when Paul was in Ephesus are mentioned in theActs of the Apostles. The first was a short visit immediately after the founding of the church at Corinth,( Acts 18:18-21)  at the end of the second missionary journey, and the second was a much longer stay, apparently about three years, in the early part of his third missionary journey (Acts 19) . 

The date of this stay was probably from 54-57 A.D. The epistle could not have been written during the first visit as the time between leaving Corinth and this visit was too short to allow the events recorded above to take place. On the other hand, it is clear that Paul had left Ephesus before writing the second epistle and that this second epistle was written soon after the first.

The most likely date therefore to fit in with all the circumstances is towards the end of the three years stay at Ephesus. The circumstances leading up to the writing of this first epistle have been briefly outlined in the previous section. To repeat and enlarge somewhat, however, the circumstances were as follows:-

  1. Paul had received news of serious disorders in the Corinthian Church (see sections 4 & 5 above). The news may have come from Apollos who had obviously returned. from Corinth after his visit. ("Acts 18:24 .- 19:1 cf. with 1 Cor.l5:12), or from the household of Chloe (1 Cor.l:ll; 5:1 & 11:18). The disorders related to factions,
    want of discipline, litigation before heathen courts, impurity, indecorous behaviour on behalf of the women and abuse of the Lord's Supper. The factions seemed to have been four in number, those faithful to Paul, some who followed Peter, others who made the eloquent Appolos their hero and a fourth party who called themselves "Christ`s" party.
  2. Paul had apparently written one, letter already dealing at least with the want of discipline and impurity, but it had not had the desired effect (ch. l Cor.5,:9) .
  3. The Church also had written a letter to Paul asking his advice on certain difficulties. The letter was probably brought by Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus (See 1 Cor.16:17). The difficulties seem to have related to marriage, meats offered to idols, spiritual gifts and order in public worship and bodily resurrection.
  4. Paul was so concerned about the situation that he despatched Timothy to endeavour to deal with it. (It is not certain whether Timothy left before or after the above letter was received from Corinth.) Very shortly after he followed Timothy's visit up with a letter, our First Epistle, which he sent by the hand of Titus. In this he dealt with all the above mentioned matters.

VI. The Character of the Epistle.

The Epistle is not a doctrinal treatise like Romans, nor does it deal with a particular crisis  lie Galatians, though it was probaffy written at the same general period as both of these. It is an epistle written to deal with certain practical issues which had arisen in the church at Corinth.

The situation in the city was so much like that which might be found in any city in any age (especially in pagan surroundings), and the range of the problems so wide, that it has been rightly called a system of Christian ethics. The apostle deals with about twelve different subjects and always refers them back to the cross and first principles for solution.

Findlay remarks in his commentary on this epistle in the Expositors Greek Testament, "This is the epistle of the doctrine of the cross in its social application." Likewise Robertson and Plummer in their commentary have the following important paragraph, "The apostle recalls to first principles every matter which engages his attention; at every point his convictions, as one who had learned from Christ Himself, are brought to bear upon the question before him, though it may be one of minor detail.

At the least touch the latent forces of fundamental faith break out into action". One of the characteristics of the Corinthian Church which helped to produce the problems was an over emphasis on knowledge. This was probably the result of the influence of sophisticated Hellenizing elements.

Six times Paul speaks of them as puffed up, or some similar term; several times he asks, "Know ye not?", i.e. with all their so called knowledge. He appreciates their enrichment in all utterance and knowledge (ch.1:5) but shows it has been emphasized too much and given a wrong place. He arguess that love is better; deeds are better than more intellectual knowledge; knowledge without grace is dangerous.

Also there seem to have been the beginnings of the Gnosticism which we meet later in Ephesians and Colossians. Gnosticism taught that matter was inherently evil and this was probably partly the sourse of the problem concerning marriage. They had obviously let their emotional tendencies run away with them as well.

This is seen in the section on the gifts. Apparently even blasphemous things were said in the so called urge of the Spirit (ch.12:3.).Some of their problems arose from their environment. It was not easy to live the christian life in a vicious pagan city like Corinth. They were confronted by idolatry at every turn even in the buying of meat and at almost any social engagement.

For this reason this epistle is a most important one for christian churches in heathen and pagan environments. Another problem arising from their environment was that of sexual licence and immorality. The danger along this line was very great in a city of Corinth's character. As non—Christians they were used to licence and even saw immorality practised in the worship of their gods. A complete reorientation of their thinking was not always easy.

All these problems Paul dealt with in a systematic, serious and practical manner. He is at home with them all; he deals with them firmly and lays down basic principles in each case. To quote another, "He deals with every day problems from a central point of view, and places every day troubles in the light of eternity". The Greeks were adepts at discussing and philosophizing, but were not so good at carrying out their philosophies.

Thus the necessity for laying down of practical principles and therefore even though the problems and issues were local, the epistle is for all time puts it well when he says, "The tendency to make religious truths the subject of intellectual study rather than a work of conscience and of heart acceptance, the disposition resulting therefrom, not always to place the moral conduct under the influence of religious conviction, and to give scope, to the latter rather in oratorical discourse that in vigour of holiness, these are, defects which more than one modern nation shares in common with the Greek people." (Commentary p.2, quoted in Tyndale Commentary on 1 Car. p26) .

VII. The Doctrinal teaching of the Epistle.

Though this is not strictly speaking a doctrinal epistle, there is nevertheless a great deal of doctrine worked in with the ethical teaching. As mentioned above, the ethical teaching is always based on sound doctrine and true belief.

  1. Paul states plainly his apostolic authority based upon his personal relationship with and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. He has the mind of Christ (ch.2:16); he is their father in Christ and he alone (ch.4:14-21); he has laid the foundation (ch.3:10) . It is because of this personal knowledge of the Lord that he upholds his authority in teaching the things of God.
  2. The eath and resurrection of our Lord are central. (ch.2:2; 6:7 & 20; 10:1 & 17; 11:23-32; ch. 15.). Notice too how in this connection, the pre-existence of Christ is plainly stated in (ch.l0:4).
  3. Concerning the Person of Christ the apostle declares that Christ is the whole of His Gospel (ch.2:2), and that He is the Lord (ch.2:8 ) through whom are all things and we through Him (8:6). Whether in social, personal or church life He is the source and sphere of all (cf. 1:30; 7:22,39; 5:4; 12:5,12; 15:58) .
  4. The Holy Spirit is shown to be a Person (ch.12:11) and in (ch. 2:11) the close relationship of the Spirit with the Godhead is brought out in the use of the comparison with the body and spirit of man. This shows that Paul has no doubt as to the intimacy of the Spirit with the Godhead. The Sipirit is the "self-conscious life of God". Mention is made of the gift of the Spirit making the church and ourselves individually temples of the living God (3.16 & 6:19). There is also a full discussion of the place, power and purpose of the gifts of the Spirit.
  5. Lastly there is a great deal of teaching concerning church worship and government including the Lord's Supper, which will be dealt with in the consideration of the epistle.

Outline of the Book

Introduction 1:1-9.
(Including salutation and thanksgiving).

I. Rebuke of Serious Disorders in the Church. 1:10 -- 6:20.

  1. Factions. 1:10 - 4:21.
    (a) The Facts (1:10-17).
    (b) The False Wisdom and the True (1:18-3:4).
    (c) The True Conception of Christian Service and Leadership. (3:5 - 4:13).
    (d) Concluding Personal Appeal (4:14-21).
  2. The case of incest. 5:1-13.
  3. Lawsuits before heathen cour. 6:1-11.
  4. Fornication. 6:12-20.)

II. Marriage. 7:1-40.

III. Food offered to Idols. 8:1 - 11:1.

  1. General Principles concerning Idolatry and the weaker brother. (8:1-130.
  2. Paul's Personal Example. 9:1.•27.
    (a) His Rights and Refusal to exercise there. (9:1-18).
    (b) His Life of Service to all. (9:123).
    (c) His Self-control. (9:24-27).
  3. The Example of the Israelites 10:1-13.
  4. The Incompatibility of Christianity and Idolatry. (10:14-22).
  5. Practice (1 Conclusions 10:23-11:1).
  6. IV. Disorders in Public Worship. (ch.11:2  14:40).
    1. Veiling of Women. (ch.11:2-16).
    2. The Lord's Supper"
    3. Spiritual Gifts.(ch.12:1 - 14:40).
    (a) General Description of Gifts and their use. (12:1-31).
    (b) Supremacy of Love. 13:1-3.3).
    (c) Practical remarks on use of Gifts and Public Worship. 1 (14:1-40).

IV. The Resurrection. (15:1-58).

VI. Practical Details. (16:1-18).

  1. The Collection. (16:1-4).
  2. Paul's Future Plans. (16:5-9).
  3. Timothy and Apollos. (16:10-12).
  4. Exhortation. (16:13-34).
  5. Stephanas and Others. (16:15-18).

Concluding Greetings and Benediction. (ch.16:19-24).

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