The city of Corinth

An important Greek city, situated to the west of the isthmus connecting mainland Greece and the Peloponnesian peninsular.  Thus strategically placed, it became an important trade centre.

Inhabited from Neolithic times, Corinth became, between 350 and 250 BC the most prominent city in Greece.

The ruins of the ancient city are situation about 4 miles from modern Corinth.

After a time of opposition to Rome, in 146 BC the city was destroyed by the Romans.  In 46 BC it was rebuilt by Caesar and, over time, regained its prosperity.  In NT times the city was a busy commercial centre with a population of around 700,000, and the third-largest city in the Roman Empire.

The city was a hub of Roman paganism and a hotbed of immorality.  ‘The town is dominated by the Acrocorinth (566 m), a steep, flat-topped rock surmounted by the acropolis, which in ancient times contained, inter alia, a temple of Aphrodite, goddess of love, whose service gave rise to the city’s proverbial immorality.’ (NBD)

‘Excavations have also shown that Corinth and its surrounding area were home to dozens of temples and shrines dedicated to such diverse deities as Apollo, Athena, Aphrodite, Demeter and Kore, Palaimon, and Sisyphus, as well as the Egyptian deities Isis and Sarapis. The Isthmian games focused their attention on a temple dedicated to Poseidon.’ (Lexham Bible Dictionary)

Even if some reports of Corinth’s immorality were exaggerated (Strabo claimed that there were 1,000 cult prostitutes), ‘sexual immorality was at least as much of a problem in Corinth as it was in any other part of the Mediterranean as indicated by ancient sources and Paul’s numerous references to sexual immorality, prostitution, and incest (1 Cor 5:1, 9, 11; 6:9, 13, 15–16, 18; 7:2; 10:8; 2 Cor 12:21).’ (Lexham Bible Dictionary)

‘Paul’s 18-months’ stay in Corinth in his second missionary journey (Acts 18:1–18) has been dated by an inscription from Delphi which shows that Gallio came to Corinth as proconsul in AD 51 or 52 (Acts 18:12–17). His bēma, or judgment seat (Acts 18:12), has also been identified, as has the macellum or meat-market (1 Cor. 10:25). An inscription near the theatre mentions an aedile [magistrate] Erastus, who possibly is the treasurer of Rom. 16:23.’ (NBD)

During his time in Corinth, Paul worked as a tent-maker, along with Priscilla and Aquilla (Acts 18:3).

The strategic situation of Corinth would not have lost on Paul, who made it into an important centre of Christian witness.

Corinth is mentioned in Acts 18:1; 19:1; 1 Cor 1:2; 2 Cor 1:1, 23; and 2 Tim 4:20.

The church in Corinth

Paul arrived in Corinth in AD 50, and spent 18 months there, establishing and building the church, Acts 18:1-17.

After he left, the work was continued by Apollos, 1 Cor 3:6.

Paul catalogues many problems in the Corinthian church: it was cliquish, undisciplined, proud, litigious, sensationalist, unloving, lax in doctrine and corrupt in morals.

Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians

Written from Ephesus probably around AD 53 to 55 shortly before Pentecost (1 Cor 16:8).

It is noteworthy that the letter was written in AD 55 – just three years after the founding of the church in Corinth.

It appears the Paul had written a previous letter, 1 Cor 5:9.  All we know of this letter is that Paul urged the Christians not to associate with immoral people.  This letter had been misunderstood: the Corinthians thought that Paul meant that they were not to associate with immoral unbelievers; but he meant flagrantly and unrepentant believers (v10f).

Paul had received a report from members of the household of Chloe (1 Cor 1:11).  They told him of various problems within the Corinthian church.

The Corinthians had written to Paul asking for guidance on various issues.  Chapters 7-16 seem to deal with these issues point by point.  1 Cor 7:1; 6:12,13 and 8:1 seem to preserve quotations from this letter which Paul then goes on the discuss.

Problems included:

  1. Divisions.  Cliques had developed based on individual leaders, such as Paul, Peter, and Apollos.
  2. Immorality, including incest and prostitution.
  3. Litigation.  Church members were taking one another to court.
  4. Idolatry.  The worship of God was being mixed with pagan practices.
  5. Men and women.  There was confusion of gender differences.
  6. Food offered to idols.  Was it acceptable to eat such food?
  7. The Lord’s Supper.  Some were over-eating, and others were getting drunk.
  8. Spiritual gifts.  They were being exercised in ways that made their meetings chaotic.

(See David Pawson, Unlocking the Bible, p963f)

‘Nineteenth-century Anglican theologian F. D. Maurice observed that here in such epistles are “the deepest writings of the New Testament.… Instead of being digests of doctrine … [they explain] to those who had been admitted into the Church of Christ their own position, bringing out that side of it which had reference to the circumstances in which they were placed or to their most besetting sins, and showing what life was in consistency, what life at variance, with it.”’ (Feasting on the Word, Vol 1)

For Blomberg, the various problems in the Corinthian church are linked by an attitude of pride, stemming from immaturity.  Moreover, they had shaken off a pagan Greek worldview which taught that ‘spirit’ was good and ‘matter’ evil.  The material world, accordingly was either resisted (as evil, leading to asceticism), or indulged (as of no lasting importance, leading to hedonism).

Blomberg points out that the ascetic worldview manifested itself in ‘the promotion of celibacy behind chapter 7 and the disbelief in the bodily resurrection behind chapter 15, which both deny the potential goodness of the body and its desires. Here too probably belong the inflated claims to knowledge and wisdom, as immaterial attributes, which exacerbated the divisions addressed in chapters 1–4.’

Signs of a hedonistic outlook include ‘sexual immorality (chap. 5; 6:12–20), eating food sacrificed to idols (chaps. 8–10), and drunkenness at the Lord’s table (11:17–34), all of which indulge bodily appetites. Other alleged manifestations of freedom in Christ—asserting one’s own rights with little regard for others—probably belong here as well: lawsuits (6:1–11), flaunting social convention with respect to head coverings (11:2–16), and competition and chaos in the exercise of spiritual gifts (chaps. 12–14).’

1 and 2 Corinthians contrasted

1 Corinthians2 Corinthians
Practical issuesPersonal insinuations
What he thought was wrong with themWhat they thought was wrong with him
Church membersChurch ministers
(David Pawson, Unlocking the Bible, p963)