Observation 1 Corinthians

(PRACTICAL ADVICE TO A TROUBLED CHURCH)

I. THE UNIQUENESS OF 1 CORINTHIANS

 

A. It is quoted more often and earlier by the early church fathers than any other writing of Paul which shows its importance and usefulness.

 

B. In the Muratorian Fragment, which was a list of canonical books from Rome (a.d. 200), it is listed as the first of Paul's writings which also shows its importance.

 

C. Paul makes a distinction in this practical letter between his personal opinion and the Lord's commands. However, this is based on his knowledge of Jesus' teachings on any given subject. If he could he would pass on Jesus' words. He believed his opinions were also inspired and authoritative (cf. 1 Cor. 7:25, 40).

 

D. Paul's guiding principle for church fellowship is that the freedom of individual believers, but also their commensurate corporate responsibility, is based not on law, but on love. The health and growth of the whole church supercedes any personal preference or privilege (cf. 1 Cor. 12:7).

 

E. This letter (along with 2 Corinthians) gives us an early look into the NT church, its structure, methods, and message. However, it must also be remembered that this church was a problematic, non-typical congregation.

 

II. THE CITY OF CORINTH

 

A. Winter shipping lanes around the southern most point of Greece (i.e., , Cape Malea) were very dangerous. Therefore, a land route of the shortest possible length was crucial. The geographical location of Corinth on the four-mile isthmus between the Gulf of Corinth (i.e., Ionian Sea) and the Saronic Gulf (i.e., Aegean Sea) made the city a major commercial shipping, trading (specializing in types of pottery and a special type of brass), and military center. In Paul's day this was literally where the cultures of the East and West met.

 

B. Corinth was also a major cultural center of the Greco-Roman world because it hosted the bi-annual Isthmian Games which began in 581 b.c. (at the Temple of Poseidon). Only the Olympic Games in Athens, every four years, rivaled them in size and importance (Thucydides, Hist. 1.13.5).

 

C. In 146 b.c. Corinth was involved in a revolt (i.e., , the Achaean League) against Rome and was destroyed by the Roman General Lucius Mummius and the Greek population dispersed into slavery. Because of its economical and military importance it was rebuilt in either 46 or 48 b.c. by Julius Caesar. It became a Roman colony where Roman soldiers retired. It was a mimic of Rome in architecture and culture and was the administrative center of the Roman (i.e., Senatorial) province of Achaia in 27 b.c. It became an Imperial Province in a.d. 15.

 

D. The acropolis of Old Corinth, rising more than 1880 feet above the plain, was the site of the temple to Aphrodite. To this temple were attached 1,000 prostitutes (Strabo, Geography, 8.6.20-22). To be called "a Corinthian" (i.e., Korinthiazesthai, coined by Aristophanes [450-385 b.c.]) was synonymous to loose, riotous living. This temple, as most of the city, was destroyed in an earthquake about 150 years before Paul arrived, as it was again in a.d. 77. It is uncertain if the fertility cult continued in Paul's day. Since the Romans, in 146 b.c., destroyed the city and killed or enslaved all of its citizens, the Greek flavor of the city was superseded by its Roman colonial status (Pausanias, II.3.7). This Roman cultural context instead of Greek culture, makes a significant difference in interpreting 1 Corinthians.

 

III. THE AUTHOR

 

A. It was to this city that Paul the Apostle came on his second missionary journey; the account is found in Acts 18:1-21. Through a vision the Lord revealed to Paul that many would believe and that there would be no successful opposition to his ministry (cf. Acts 18:9-10).

 

B. Paul's missionary strategy was to plant a church in the major cities of his day, knowing that converted visitors, traveling salesmen, and sailors would spread the gospel as they went. It was up to the local church to take responsibility for the evangelism and discipleship of their area.

 

C. Paul found Aquila and Priscilla, also believing Jewish tent-makers or leather workers, in Corinth. They were forced out of Rome in a.d. 49 by Claudius' edict (Orosius, Hist. 7:6:15-16) against any Jewish rites or rituals (cf. Acts 18:2). Paul had come to Corinth alone. Both Silas and Timothy were on assignments in Macedonia (cf. Acts 18:5). He was very discouraged (cf. Acts 18:9-19; 1 Cor. 2:3). However, he persevered and stayed in Corinth eighteen months (cf. Acts 18:11).

 

D. Paul's authorship of this book is attested to by Clement of Rome, who wrote a letter to Corinth in a.d. 95/96 (I Clement 37:5; 47:1-3; 49:5). Pauline authorship of this letter has never been doubted, even by modern critical scholarship.

 

IV. THE DATE

 

A. The date of Paul's visit to Corinth has been ascertained by an inscription of the Emperor Claudius found at Delphi, which dates the proconsulship of Gallio as beginning in July a.d. 51 through July, 52 (cf. Acts 18:12-17), which would make the date of Paul's arrival about a.d. 49-50.

 

B. The date of Paul's letter would then be sometime in the mid-50's. He wrote it from Ephesus where he ministered between two years (cf. Acts 19:10) and three years (cf. Acts 20:31).

 

C. A possible chronology of Paul's writings following F. F. Bruce and Murry Harris with minor adaptations:

 

 

 Book DatePlace of WritingRelation to Acts
1Galatians48Syrian AntiochActs 14:28; 15:2
21 Thessalonians50CorinthActs 18:5
32 Thessalonians50Corinth 
41 Corinthians55EphesusActs 19:20
52 Corinthians56MacedoniaActs 20:2
6Romans57CorinthActs 20:3
7-10Prison Letters   
 Colossiansearly 60'sRome 
 Philemonearly 60'sRome 
 Ephesiansearly 60'sRome 
 Philippianslate 62-63RomeActs 28:30-31
11-13Fourth Missionary Journey Ephesus (?) 
 1 Timothy63 (or later,Macedonia 
 Titus63 but before  
 2 Timothy64 a.d. 68)Rome 

V. RECIPIENTS OF THE LETTER

 

A. The recipient of the letter was the fledgling church made up mostly of Gentiles. The population of Corinth was racially and culturally mixed. We know from archaeology and Scripture (cf. Acts 18:4-8) that there was a synagogue in Corinth.

 

B. Roman soldiers were retired there after they completed twenty years of military service. Corinth was a free city, a Roman colony, and capital of the Roman province of Achaia.

 

C. The letter seems to reflect several groups in the church:

1. intellectual Greeks who were still very proud of their philosophical traditions and were trying to wed Christian revelation to these old customs and intellectual traditions

2. Roman patrons and the socially elite

3. a believing Jewish contingent made up mostly of "god-fearing" Gentiles, who attended the synagogue

4. a large number of converted slaves

 

VI. THE PURPOSE OF THE LETTER

 

A. Paul heard of the problems that had developed at Corinth from four sources

1. Chloe's people, 1 Cor. 1:11

2. a letter from the church asking questions, 1 Cor. 7:1,25; 8:1; 12:1; 16:1,12

3. a personal visit from Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, 1 Cor. 16:17

It is possible that the letter (#2) was brought by these men (#3).

 

It is interesting that Murry Harris has outlined the book of 1 Corinthians based on Paul's received information about the church.

1. oral report from members of Chloe's household, resulting in Paul writing chapters 1 Cor. 1-4

2. oral report from church representatives (i.e., , Stephanus, Fortunatus, and Achaicus), resulting in chapters 1 Cor. 5-6

3. written questions from the church, resulting in chapters 1 Cor. 7-16

 

B. The church had become factious, advocating different leaders: Paul, Apollos, Peter, and possibly a Christ party (cf. 1 Cor. 1:12). Not only was the church divided over leadership types, but also over several moral issues and the use of spiritual gifts. A main point of contention was Paul's Apostolic authority (especially 2 Corinthians)!

 

VII. PAUL'S CONTACTS WITH THE CORINTHIAN CHURCH-A TENTATIVE PROPOSAL

 

A. How many letters did Paul write to Corinth?

1. just two, I and 2 Corinthians

2. three, with one letter being lost

3. four, with two letters being lost

4. some modern scholars find parts of the two lost letters in 2 Corinthians

a. previous letter (1 Cor. 5:9) in 2 Cor. 6:14-17:1)

b. severe letter (2 Cor. 2:3-4,9; 7:8-12) in 2 Cor. 10-13)

5. five, with 2 Cor. 10-13 being the fifth letter, sent after Titus' report relating the further bad news

 

B. Theory #3 seems to fit best

1. previous letter, lost (1 Cor. 5:9)

2. 1 Corinthians

3. severe letter, lost (possibly part of which is recorded in 2 Cor. 2:1-11; 7:8-12)

4. 2 Corinthians

 

C. A proposed reconstruction

 

DATE

VISIT

LETTER

a.d. 50-52 Paul's Second Missionary Journey

a. On Paul's Second Missionary Journey he stayed in Corinth eighteen months (cf. Acts 18:1-11)

a.d. 52 Gallio was proconsul from a.d. 51 (cf. Acts 18:12-17)

a. 1 Cor. 5:9-11 seems to refer to a letter about an immoral situation in the church. This letter is unknown unless: (1) as some suppose, that 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1 is part of it or (2) that 2 Cor. 2:3,4,9 are epistolary aorists and refer to 2 Corinthians.

a.d. 56 (Spring)

b. Paul hears about problems in the church while he is in Ephesus from two sources: (1) Chloe's people, 1 Cor. 1:11 and (2) Stephanas, Forltunatus, and Achaicus, 1 Cor. 16:17. They apparently brought a letter from the Corinthian house churches containing questions

a.d. 56 (Winter) or

a.d. 57 (Winter)

b. Paul answers these questions (cf. 1 Cor. 7:1,25; 8:1; 12:1; 16:1,2) by writing 1 Corinthians. Timothy (cf. 1 Cor. 4:17) takes the response from Ephesus (cf. 1 Cor. 16:8) to Corinth. Timothy was not able to solve the problems in the church.

c. Paul made an emergency, painful visit to Corinth (not recorded in Acts, cf. 2 Cor. 2:1). It was not successful, but he vowed to return.

 

  c. Paul wrote a severe letter (cf. 2 Cor. 2:3-4:9; 7:8-12) to the Corinthian house churches which was delivered by Titus (cf. 2 Cor. 2:13; 7:13-15). This letter is unknown, unless, as some suppose, part of it is in 2 Cor. 10-13.

d. Paul planned to meet Titus in Troas, but Titus did not come, so Paul went to Macedonia (cf. 2 Cor. 2:13; 7:5,13), possibly Philippi (cf. MSS Bc, K, L, P).

 

  d. He found Titus and heard that the church had responded to his leadership and he then wrote 2 Corinthians in great thanksgiving (cf. 7:11-16). It was delivered by Titus

a.d. 57-58 (Winter)

e. Paul's last recorded visit to Corinth seems to be referred to in Acts 20:2-3. Although it does not mention Corinth by name, it is assumed. He stayed there during the winter months.

e. The marked mood change between chapters 1-9 and 10-13 is explained by some scholars as more bad news (possibly the revitalization of old opponents and the addition of new opponents) from the Corinthian house churches after chapters 1-9 had been written (F. F. Bruce).

VIII. CONCLUSION

 

A. In 1 Corinthians we see Paul, a pastor, dealing with a problem church. In this letter and in Galatians, we see him apply universal gospel truth in different ways, based on the need of the church: freedom for the Galatian churches/limits to the Corinthian church.

 

B. This book is either a series of "cultural dinosaurs" or a wealth of principled truth applied to a particular historical/cultural setting. We must be careful not to confuse truth and cultural applications of that truth. For a good discussion of this very important hermeneutical issue see Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart's How To Read the Bible for All Its Worth, pp. 65-76 and Gordon Fee, Gospel and Spirit.

 

C. This book will push you to the limit of your spiritual ability to interpret the Bible. It will force you to rethink aspects of your theology. It will open a window to God's will for our day, practically speaking, as few other biblical writings.

 

IX. BRIEF OUTLINE OF 1 CORINTHIANS

 

A. Introduction 1 Cor. 1:1-9

1. Greeting, 1 Cor. 1:1-3

2. Thanksgiving, 1 Cor. 1:4-9

 

B. Reported problems at Corinth, 1 Cor. 1:10-6:20

1. Factions within the church because of the misunderstanding of Christian leadership's (i.e., , Paul, Apollos, Peter) motives and message, 1 Cor. 1:10-4:12

2. Shocking immorality, 1 Cor. 5:1-13

3. Christian lawsuits, 1 Cor. 6:1-11

4. Christian freedom limited by responsibility, 1 Cor. 6:12-20

 

C. A letter from Corinth asking the nagging questions, 1 Cor. 7:1-1-16:4

1. Human sexuality, 1 Cor. 7:1-40

2. Relationship to an idolatrous culture and Christian freedom, 1 Cor. 8:1-11:1

3. Christian worship and spirituality, 1 Cor. 11:2-14:40

4. Insights on eschatology, especially the resurrection, 1 Cor. 15:1-58

5. The contribution for the mother church in Jerusalem, 1 Cor. 16:1-4

 

D. Concluding remarks

1. Paul's (and his fellow ministers) travel plans, 1 Cor. 16:5-12

2. Final exhortation and greetings, 1 Cor. 16:13-24

 

X. SUGGESTED READINGS ON PAUL'S THOUGHT

 

A. The Mind of St. Paul, William Barclay, published by Harper & Row

B. Paul, Apostle of the Heart Set Free, F. F. Bruce, published by Eerdmans

C. The Origins of Paul's Religion, J. Gresham Machen, published by Eerdmans

D. Paul, An Outline of His Theology, Herman Ridderbos (translated by John De Witt), published by Eerdmans

E. Epochs in the Life of Paul, A. T. Robertson, published by Baker

F. A Man In Christ, James S. Stewart, published by Harper & Row

G. Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, published by IVP

H. Paul in the Roman World, The Conflict at Corinth, Robert M. Grant, published by Westminister, John Knox Press

I. Philo and Paul Among the Sophists, Bruce W. Winter, published by Eerdmans

J. After Paul Left Corinth, Bruce W. Winter

 

XI. TERMS AND PERSONS TO BRIEFLY IDENTIFY

1. sanctified, 1:2

2. ages, 2:7,8

3. “the depths of God,” 2:10

4. “God’s building,” 3:9

5. “you are a temple of God,” 3:16,17

6. “the mysteries of God,” 4:1

7. “deliver such a one to Satan,” 5:5

8. “we shall judge angels,” 6:3

9. “and such were some of you,” 6:11

10. “concerning virgins,” 7:25

11. “I myself will not be disqualified,” 9:27

12. “sacrifice to demons,” 10:20

13. “drink the cup of the Lord,” 10:21

14. “because of the angels,” 11:10

15. “I hear divisions exist among you,” 11:18

16. “Jesus is accursed,” 12:3

17. “distinguishing spirits,” 12:10

18. clanging symbol, 13:1

19. “when the perfect comes,” 13:10

20. “see in a mirror dimly,” 13:12

21. prophesy, 14:39

22. abolished, 15:24

23. “the collection for the saints,” 16:1

 

XII. PERSONS TO BRIEFLY IDENTIFY

1. Sosthenes, 1:1

2. Chloe’s people, 1:11

3. Apollos, 1:12

4. Cephas, 1:12

5. Crispus and Gaius, 1:14

6. “the rulers of this age,” 2:6,8

7. natural man, 2:14

8. spiritual man, 3:1

9. babes in Christ, 3:1

10. Cephas, 15:5

11. the twelve, 15:5

12. James, 15:7

 

XIII. MAP LOCATIONS TO PLOT

1. Corinth, 1:2

2. churches of Galatia, 16:1

3. Jerusalem, 16:3

4. Macedonia, 16:5

5. Ephesus, 16:8

6. Achaia, 16:15

7. Asia, 16:19

 

XIV. DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. Why did the Jews reject Jesus as the Messiah?

2. Why did the Greeks reject Jesus?

3. Why does Paul make such negative statements about philosophy in 1:18-25 and 2:1-5?

4. Explain the implications of 1:26-31.

5. To whom does 3:10-15 refer?

6. Why was the church condemned by Paul in 5:1-8?

7. Does 6:1-11 preclude Christians from law suits today?

8. Is Paul implying that celibacy is the will of God in chapter 7?

9. Does 7:12-13 imply that believers can marry unbelievers?

10. How is chapter 8 like Romans 14?

11. Why would Paul not take money from the church in Corinth? (9:3-18)

12. Explain the implications of 9:19-23.

13. Explain 10:1-13 in your own words.

14. Why is 10:13 such a wonderful verse for believers?

15. State the spiritual principle of 10:23 in your own words.

16. How does 11:5 contradict 14:34?

17. Does 11:30 mean some believers had died by taking the Lord’s Supper?

18. Explain the circumstances of Paul’s statement in 11:34.

19. What is the implication of the spiritual principle in 11:7?

20. How are spiritual gifts related to natural talents? When do believers receive their spiritual gift(s)?

21. How does 12:29-30 answer the question, “Should all believers speak in tongues”? (14:5)

22. In 13:8 what will pass away and what will remain?

23. How does chapter 14 delineate the use of tongues in public worship?

24. What three groups does Paul limit in public worship in chapter 14?

25. List the points of the gospel in 15:1-4.

26. When in the life of Jesus does 15:6 occur?

27. How is 15:22 like Romans 5:12-21?