Introduction to our study of 1 Corinthians
Imagine writing a letter to someone in modern day Greece. How long do you think it would take to get there? There was no ancient post office. Letter carriers had to hand deliver much of their mail. Imagine a world were not all of the streets had names, and the houses had no numbers. There were no Yellow pages to look up the address of First Baptist Church of Corinth. The deliverers probably just had to rely on a network of fellow tradesmen and such.
Corinth was once a flourishing city-state of Greece (independent). It came into conflict with Rome as Rome was beginning its climb to world dominance. In 146 BC it was destroyed. It lay in ruins for 100 years until it was rebuilt by Julius Caesar in 44 BC. Why was it rebuilt: its location. It had a prime location for commerce. It lay near the isthmus that connected mainland Greece and the Peloponnesus. What does that mean? An isthmus is a land bridge. Travel around the Peloponnesus involved a 250 mile voyage which was dangerous and time consuming. Most sea captains carried their ships on skids or rollers across the isthmus directly past Corinth.
Another factor that helped Corinth do well was the Isthmian games which took place every other year. This was the second most famous athletic contest in Greece (next to the Olympic Games).
As what happens in many large wealthy cities, vice and immorality do well also. Old Corinth gained a reputation for sexual vice that one ancient Greek philosopher coined the verb “korinthiazo” = to act like a Corinthian, i.e., to engage in acts of sexual immorality. 6:9-11a –Neither the sexually immoral nor idolater…nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders…And that is what some of you were…
Corinth was also a religiously diverse city. There were 26 sacred places devoted to the Roman-Greek pantheon of Gods. There is also evidence of a synagogue.
The church was founded by Paul on his second missionary journey.
Acts 18.1-4 - After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he met a Jew named Aquila…who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered the Jews to leave Rome… Paul went to see them, and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them. Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade the Jews and Greeks.
He came to Corinth late spring or early summer of AD 50. He found work and lodging with Prisca and Aquila, Christian Jews who were kicked out of Rome when Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome in AD 41. He wrote 1 and 2 Thessalonians while with them.
Worked with Aquila and Priscilla, fellow tentmakers. Probably outreach to Gentiles…when support arrived, moved to synagogue to outreach Jews and believing Gentiles
Acts 18:8 – Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized.
Acts 18:11-12 – So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God. While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him into court.
Picture of membership
Corinthian church was a predominantly Gentile (non-Jewish) community, the majority of who were at the lower end of the socio-economic ladder, although there were two or three wealthy families. As former pagans they brought to the Christian faith a Hellenistic worldview and attitude toward ethical behavior.
1 Cor. 6:11a - offenders…And that is what some of you were…
This was a diverse congregation –
1.26 – Think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.
Not wise or influential, tradesmen looked down upon.
Roman Jews – Priscilla and Aquila (successful business people); Crispus, the synagogue ruler
Romans – Fortunas, Quartus, Gaius, Titius Justus
Greek Names – Stephanas, Achaicus, Erastus
Stephanas was probably wealthy (refer to chapter 16 and his work…)
Erastus might have been director of public works
Rom. 16.23 – Erastus, who is the city’s director of public works and our brother Quartus send you their greetings.
The congregation, for the most part, was not accepted by the upper-class people, even though some of them were wealthy or successful.
Lord’s Supper – 11.17-33, esp. 22 - 11:22 – Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?
Priscilla and Aquila were successful business people, but they were Jews and considered outsiders.
Erastus, it is believed had achieved the second most important position in the administration of Corinth, but was looked down on because he was a freedman (former slave) and the son of a slave.
These people may have been attracted to the gospel because it represented the paradox that was their lives.
Why did Paul write 1 Corinthians?
The occasion of the letter was the response to a letter from the church brought to Paul by Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus (Read 16.15-17).
Also, a wealthy woman of Ephesus, Chloe, sent some of her employees to Corinth on business. While they spent time at the church they were shocked by the “unchristian” behavior (1 Cor. 1.11)
Paul was responding to situations that had developed in the Corinthian church between the time Paul left the city and the writing of this letter three years later.
Paul addresses, in response to reports (1.11; 5.1; 11.18) or to their letter (cf. 7.1), at least 11 different, somewhat diverse concerns, ten of which are behavioral; and one that is theological.
Feel Paul’s pain. Paul planted this church and it grieved him to see it struggle like this. Their previous religious beliefs, their inherited social attitudes, their relations with others in the community, all led to greatly differing perceptions of what God required of them. With all of this confusion, Paul felt he had to step up and share his heart. He wanted them to be mature. Thus, he takes time and settles their disputes and corrects their beliefs.
A lot of groups will want to tell you that doctrine is not important…and
although the major thrust of this letter is corrective of behavior rather than doctrine, Paul explains many doctrines that relate directly to the matters of sin and righteousness. In one way or another, wrong living always stems from wrong belief.