Introduction to First Corinthians
CORINTH, the capital city of Achaia and all Greece in Paul’s day (c. AD50s), by its unique location on the Peloponnesian isthmus with two crowded sea-ports (on both Aegean Sea and Adriatic Sea sides), was the globalised commerce nerve centre of the Mediterranean world: a cosmopolitan mega-city of vileness, opulence and profligacy, a city of Isthmian games, sophist rhetoric and hedonist philosophy. The Corinthians were known for their sexually perverse and morally debauched idolatry, as well as their shamelessly libertine and wanton (“ALL THINGS ARE LAWFUL” 1Cor 6:12; 10:23) vile culture, and they permitted freedom of individual expression even for women, slaves and strangers alike, irrespective of ethnicity and religion.
Ethnic Corinth was destroyed in 146BC by the Roman General Mummius but was rebuilt 100years later as cosmopolitan Corinth in 46BC by Julius Caesar. Cosmopolitan Corinth was inhabited by merchants, scholars, sports champions, freed slaves, “priestess” prostitutes for Aphrodite (Venus, the goddess of love) and effeminate homosexuals for Apollo (1Cor 6:9-11; Rom 1:26-28), retired and serving soldiers, Greeks, Romans, Syrians, Egyptians and Jews.
To understand Corinthian immoral and libertine depravity better, one needs to read Romans 1:18-40 which St Paul wrote while he was in Corinth. Such decadence surrounding Paul at that time in Corinth apparently motivated Paul’s preaching to the Corinthians as indicated in Act 18:4-5 as well as his Epistle to the Romans. The usage “corinthize” or “act the Corinthian” came to mean to be debauched or wanton. Corinth was the next largest city after Rome.
The world of today is yet to attain the depraved heathenish “modernity” and “humanism” of Corinth despite today’s civilisation, technology and globalisation. Except for crime-control (Act 18:14-15), the only cities today that try to approach Corinth in libertinism with its wanton vileness and commerce with its exotic opulence may be Las Vegas and New York.
Saint Paul encountered four main evils against the veracity and verity of the Gospel and the unity and purity of the Church during his missionary work in Europe: (1) Jewish ritualistic confrontation, (2) Eastern occultist competition, (3) Greco-Roman philosophical contamination and (4) Greco-Roman immoral corruption. Today these age-old foursquare evils that form the mundane and heathenish pillars of Western civilization in particular and globalisation in general are subtly regaining momentum against and within the Church once more in their purportedly “modern” forms. The sure Christian answer to these evils of modern heathenism is revealed to a great extent in First Corinthians.
That St Paul’s “raw unpackaged” Gospel saved souls by God’s power and was relevant in Corinth is a proof that the same Gospel has the power and relevance today to save souls from the power of sin and error. This message of the Gospel is God’s wisdom and saving power at work (1Cor 1:24). Christ is for us God’s wisdom and righteousness, sanctification and redemption (1Cor 1:30). First Corinthians is the Apostolic Constitution in the Scripture on how we ought to behave in the household of God.
The Corinthian Church was planted in AD50 during Paul’s second missionary journey which took him into Europe for the first time. Paul came to Corinth through Athens after escaping lynching in Thessalonica and Berea. After attempting Areopagian philosophically “repackaged” Gospel in Athens with possibly unsatisfactory result (Act 17), St Paul resolved to preach only the pure plain Gospel in Corinth despite fears of vile Gentile ridicule and virulent Jewish revile.
(1) And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.
(2) For I determined not to know anything among you, except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
(3) And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.
(4) And my speech and my preaching were not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:
(5) That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
(6) But we speak wisdom among them that are mature: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nothing:
(18) For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us who are saved it is the power of God.
(19) For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.
(20) Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?
(21) For since in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
(22) For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:
(23) But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness;
(24) But unto them who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.
(25) Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
The Corinthian Church started next door to the Synagogue in Corinth with key Synagogue Leaders as well as Gentile God-fearers being the first converts (Act 18:1-18). While Paul left Corinth and returned to Antioch to end his second missionary journey and begin the third missionary journey up to Ephesus, Apollos an orator from Alexandria came to Corinth and became a prominent preacher there (Act 18:19-19:1ff), but was unable to set things in order.
The epistle was written from Ephesus in AD57 when Paul returned there from Jerusalem and Antioch on his third missionary journey. First Corinthians was St Paul’s inspired response to news and inquiries from 7year old Corinthian Church about syncretising the Gospel with Gentile philosophy and idolatry, divisive personality cliques, condoning of cultural depravity, lawsuits, controversies over liberty, marriage, proper conduct, order and exercise of spiritual gifts during Church worship, plus confusion about eschatological hope. Chapters 1 to 4 were in response to news from the Chloe’s family (1Cor 1:11). Chapters 5 and 6 were in response to news from other sources. Chapters 7 to 16 were in response to written inquiries sent by the Church through Stephanas &Co delegation in addition to other directives by Paul (1Cor 16:15-18). In the meantime, Timothy was already on his way to Corinth ahead to put things in order on Paul’s behalf (1Cor 4:17, 16:10; Act 19:21-22). For the purpose of this study we shall divide the epistle into these headings:
Theme: THE SOUND DOCTRINE OF CHRIST or THE APOSTOLIC CONSTITUTION
Chapter 1: ON THE UNITY OF THE CHURCH
Chapter 1:18ff & 2: ON THE WISDOM IN THE GOSPEL
Chapter 3: ON CHRISTIAN SERVICE
Chapter 4: ON APOSTLES’ EXAMPLE
Chapters 5/6: AGAINST IMMORALITY AND LAWSUITS
Chapter 7: ON THE CHRISTIAN AND MARRIAGE
Chapter 8: ON CHRISTIAN LIBERTY
Chapter 9: ON PAUL’S USE OF LIBERTY
Chapter 10: ON PROPER USE OF LIBERTY
Chapter 11: ON ORDER IN PUBLIC WORSHIP
Chapter 12: ON SPIRITUAL GIFTS AND THE CHURCH
Chapter 13: ON THE SUPERIORITY OF LOVE
Chapter 14: ON EXERCISING SPIRITUAL GIFTS
Chapter 15: ON THE HOPE OF THE RESURRECTION
Chapter 16: ON THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE SAINTS