1 CORINTHIANS First Corinthians is a practical letter. Paul dealt with problems concerning the church as a whole and also with personal problems. The letter is relevant for the needs of today. Individuals and churches continue to face many of the same problems encountered at Corinth.
There is no need for doubt concerning the authorship, origin, and destination of this letter. It was used by early Christian writers. Quotations and allusions are found in 1 Clement, a letter sent from Rome to Corinth in A.D. 96. Others reflecting use of 1 Corinthians include Ignatius (35–107), Justin Martyr (100–165), Irenaeus (130–200), and Tertullian (160–220). First Corinthians was written from the city of Ephesus. In 1 Corinthians 16:7-8, Paul wrote, “I trust to tarry a while with you, if the Lord permit. But I will tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost.”
Paul's First Ministry in Corinth A brief survey of Paul's contacts with Corinth will aid in understanding his correspondence with Corinth. In a vision at Troas on his second missionary journey, Paul heard the call, “Come over into Macedonia, and help us” (Acts 16:9). Paul and his party went to Philippi and established work there. Following their release from prison, Paul and Silas went to Thessalonica. Although a work was established there, persecution arose due to the jealousy of the Jews. Paul and Silas moved on Berea, where they were well received. However, Jews from Thessalonica came and stirred up the crowds.
The decision was made for Paul to minister alone in Athens. A comparison of Acts 17:13-15 with 1 Thessalonians 3:6 indicates that Timothy returned to Thessalonica. Silas probably remained at Berea. Paul's ministry was brief in Athens. Some converts were made, but a church was not established. Paul left Athens alone and probably discouraged.
Paul went from Athens to Corinth, where later Silas and Timothy joined him (Acts 18:5). Paul ministered in Corinth at least eighteen months (Acts 18:1-18). He began working with Aquila and Priscilla in tentmaking. Probably, they already were Christians. They had come to Corinth because of an edict by Claudius that Jews should depart from Rome.
Allowing for a margin of one year, Paul's first visit to Corinth can be dated with a high degree of assurance. Two events provide data for this dating. Aquila and Priscilla had “lately come from Italy; because Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome” (Acts 18:2). Suetonius wrote concerning Claudius, “Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome.” “Chrestus” is probably a reference to Christ. If so, the non-Christian Jews and Christian Jews were arguing concerning Christ. Orosius, a fifth-century historian, dates the edict in the ninth year of Claudius (History, VI.6.15). The ninth year of Claudius was from January 25, 49, to January 24, 50. Although the accuracy of Orosius has been questioned, this dating fits with other data. If correct, Aquila and Priscilla probably came from Rome in A.D. 49 or early 50. Thus Paul would not have arrived in Corinth before 50.
The date of Gallio's proconsulship provides better data for determining the time of Paul's ministry in Corinth. Normally, a proconsul served for only one year, beginning on July 1. An inscription found at Delphi is a copy of a letter from Claudius in response to a report sent by Gallio as proconsul. It states that Claudius was in his twelfth year, thus January 25, 52, to January 24, 53. It also stated that Claudius had been acclaimed as emperor for the twenty-sixth time. An inscription on an aqueduct in Rome shows that the twenty-seventh acclamation came before August 1, 52. This would place the Delphi letter between January 25, 52, and August 1, 52.
Gallio could not have begun in July 52, reported to Claudius, and received an answer by August 1. If he served for only one year, it would have been from July 1, 51, to June 30, 52. Acts 18:18 seems to indicate that most of Paul's ministry of eighteen months had passed when he appeared before Gallio (Acts 18:11). Thus the most likely time for dating Paul's arrival in Corinth is early 50.
Paul left Corinth accompanied by Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:18). He left them at Ephesus and promised the Ephesians that he would return. In the meantime, Aquila and Priscilla instructed Apollos; and he left for Corinth, where he preached for some time (Acts 18:24-28). After visiting Jerusalem and Antioch of Syria, Paul returned to Ephesus for a ministry of more than two years (Acts 19:8-10).
Paul's Contacts with Corinth During His Ephesian Ministry During Paul's Ephesian ministry a series of disturbing events took place relative to Corinth: (1) A party spirit arose in Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:12-13; 1 Corinthians 3:3-4). (2) A series of reports came to Paul, some by those of Chloe (1 Corinthians 1:11). These reports included attacks upon Paul (1 Corinthians 2:1-10) and problems of immorality (1 Corinthians 5:1). (3) Paul wrote a letter warning against fellowship with sexually immoral people (1 Corinthians 5:9). This letter is lost unless a portion of it remains in 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1. (4) The Corinthians wrote to Paul (1 Corinthians 7:1), asking about certain problems concerning marriage, fornication, and disorders in public worship. (5) A delegation came from Corinth (Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus) with news from Corinth (1 Corinthians 16:17). (6) Apollos quit his work in Corinth and returned to Ephesus. Even under Paul's urging, he refused to go back to Corinth (1 Corinthians 16:12). (7) Paul sent Timothy to Corinth (1 Corinthians 4:17) in an effort to heal the problems. Timothy probably went by way of Macedonia (Acts 19:22; 1 Corinthians 16:1). (8) Paul wrote 1 Corinthians from Ephesus (1 Corinthians 16:8), expecting them to receive the letter before the arrival of Timothy (1 Corinthians 16:10).
Purpose for Writing First Corinthians Paul wrote 1 Corinthians to give instruction and admonition that would lead to the solving of the many problems in the congregation. Some of these problems may have arisen out of a “super spiritualist” group that had been influenced by incipient gnostic teachings. All of the problems in 1 Corinthians 1-14 were grounded in egocentric or self-centered attitudes in contrast to self-denying, Christ-centered attitudes. 1 Corinthians 15:1 concerning the resurrection may reflect sincere misconceptions on the part of the Corinthians.
Theme of 1 Corinthians The egocentric life is contrasted with the Christocentric life, or, the mature Christian is characterized by giving, not getting.
Introduction (1 Corinthians 1:1-9)
I. Divisions Revealing Carnality and Immaturity Rather than Growth under the Lordship of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:10-4:21).
A. Fragmentized by a party spirit (1 Corinthians 1:10-17)
B. Christ crucified: a stumbling block to the world in its wisdom, yet the power and wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:18-31)
C. Paul's preaching by the power of God, not by the wisdom of the world (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)
D. God's wisdom revealed to those having the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:6-16)
E. The inability of the Corinthians to receive the full message of the gospel (1 Corinthians 3:1-9)
F. Responsibility and judgment (1 Corinthians 3:10-23)
G. The role of the apostles—”ministers of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Corinthians 4:1-13)
H. The intent of Paul's rebuke—not to shame but to admonish (1 Corinthians 4:14-21)
II. Problems of Sexual Immorality (1 Corinthians 5:1-6:20)
A. A case of incest (1 Corinthians 5:1-8)
B. The right attitude and relationship of the church to fornicators (1 Corinthians 5:9-13 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-11)
C. The error of antinomianism in relation to sex (1 Corinthians 6:12-20)
D. Litigation in pagan courts (1 Corinthians 6:1-8)
III. Marriage and Celibacy (1 Corinthians 7:1-40)
A. The sexual relation in marriage (1 Corinthians 7:1-7)
B. Advice to the unmarried in view of the sex drive (1 Corinthians 7:8-9)
C. Admonition to Christian partners to remain married (1 Corinthians 7:10-11)
D. The Christian's responsibility when the marriage partner is not a Christian (1 Corinthians 7:12-24)
E. Circumstances under which Paul advised the unmarried to remain as they were (1 Corinthians 7:25-35)
F. The responsibility of a father for his virgin daughter (1 Corinthians 7:36-38)
G. Advice to widows (1 Corinthians 7:39-40)
IV. Meat Offered to Idols and Christian Liberty (1 Corinthians 8:1-11:1)
A. Liberty and responsibility in relation to meat offered to idols (1 Corinthians 8:1-13)
B. Paul's own surrender of apostolic privileges (1 Corinthians 9:1-23)
C. The necessity for self-discipline (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)
D. Admonition from Israel's wilderness history (1 Corinthians 10:1-13)
E. The impossibility of partaking both of the table of the Lord and the table of demons (1 Corinthians 10:14-22)
F. A summary of guiding principles (1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1)
V. Problems in Public Worship (1 Corinthians 11:2-14:40)
A. The veiling of women (1 Corinthians 11:2-16)
B. Disorders connected with the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 11:17-34)
C. Spiritual gifts and the supremacy of love (1 Corinthians 12:1-14:40)
VI. The Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-58)
A. The resurrection of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:1-29)
B. The relevance of the hope of the resurrection for the struggles of this life (1 Corinthians 15:30-34)
C. The resurrection of the body (1 Corinthians 15:35-58)
VII. Practical and Personal Matters (1 Corinthians 16:1-24)
R. E. Glaze
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.