First and Second Corinthians
New Testament Survey, Lesson 6 of 13
The church in Corinth was begun by Paul on his second missionary journey (Acts 18:1-18). When he came to Corinth, Paul met a Jew named Aquila. Aquila and his wife, Priscilla had recently come to Corinth from Rome. They earned their living by making tents. Because Paul also knew this trade, he lived with them and worked to support himself while preaching the Gospel.
As his custom was, Paul first preached in the Jewish synagogue. Silas and Timothy soon joined him in the work. When the Jews refused to hear the Gospel, Paul left the synagogue and began preaching to the Gentiles. Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, became a believer. Many of the Corinthians heard the Gospel, believed it and were baptized (Acts 18:8).
Paul remained in Corinth for a year and six months (Acts 18:11). When the Roman proconsul, Gallio, came to Corinth, the Jews brought charges against Paul. Gallio knew their charges had to do with matters of the Jewish religion so he refused to hear them. Paul continued his work in Corinth for some time after this (Acts 18:18).
From earliest times, Christian writers have all agreed that Paul wrote First Corinthians. The book claims Paul as its author (1 Corinthians 1:1). Clement of Rome, a Christian, wrote a letter to the church at Corinth about 95 A.D. In his letter, he refers to Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth. He called it “the epistle of the blessed Apostle Paul.” First Corinthians was written sometime between 55 and 57 A.D.
Corinth was an ancient city when Paul came there. It was in existence one thousand years before the time of Christ. Philip, father of Alexander the Great, conquered Corinth in 338 B.C. In 196 B.C. Corinth became an independent city state. Fifty years after this, it was conquered by the Romans who killed all the men, sold the women and children into slavery and completely destroyed the city. About one hundred years later, Julius Caesar rebuilt Corinth as a Roman city. In Paul’s day, Corinth had a population of 600,000 made up of Jews, Greeks, Romans, and many other nationalities.
Corinth was a very wealthy city. It was a center of art, athletics, business and religion. The temple of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, sex, and fertility was located there. One thousand priestesses, who were prostitutes, carried on their immoral trade. Corinth had such a bad reputation as an evil, immoral city that it had become an insult to refer to someone as a Corinthian.
Paul had learned of division in the church at Corinth from the household of Chloe (1 Corinthians 1:10-17). Three members of the church at Corinth had visited Paul (1 Corinthians 16:17, 18). Paul had also received a letter from the church at Corinth asking a number of questions (1 Corinthians 7:1; 8:1; 12:1). He had written an earlier letter to the church (1 Corinthians 5:9). He also sent Timothy to help them with their problems (1 Corinthians 4:17; 16:10).
The church at Corinth was badly divided. There were groups who followed after their favorite preacher (1:12-17). A brother was living in open fornication and had not been disciplined (5:1-13). Members of the church were taking their own brethren to court instead of having their disputes settled by faithful Christians (6:1-9). There were disputes over whether Christians should eat meat which had been offered to idols (8:1- 13; 10:14-33). There were also questions over marriage (7:1- 40). Some questioned that Paul was really an apostle since he did not take support from them (9:1-23). Women had abused their freedom in Christ by refusing to show their submission to men (11:1-16). The Lord’s supper had been turned into a common meal (11:17-34). There was much dispute about miraculous gifts. They had become a source of contention and confusion (12:1-14:40). Some at Corinth even denied the resurrection (15:1-58). Paul wrote to correct these problems.
Second Corinthians gives us more personal information about Paul than any of his other letters. Paul identifies himself twice as the writer of Second Corinthians (1:1; 10:1). Second Corinthians is a follow-up letter to First Corinthians and was probably written from six months to a year later than First Corinthians. This would place the time of writing between 55 and 57 A.D.
The book is both positive and negative. The first nine chapters are very positive. Titus had visited Corinth and brought a good report to Paul (7:6,7). He reported that the majority of the brethren had responded well to the First Corinthian letter. They had corrected many of the wrongs Paul dealt with in that letter. The fornicator had been disciplined and had repented. Paul encouraged the church to forgive him and receive him back into fellowship (2:5-11). Paul gave further instruction concerning the contribution he was collecting for Judea and urged them to have it ready when he came (8:1-9:15).
The last four chapters are more negative. There were still some in the church who opposed Paul. They even questioned if he was really an apostle (12:11,12). Paul replied to his opponents in a very strong way. His enemies had boasted of their great standing. Paul was forced to speak of his own sufferings and sacrifices for the cause of Christ in order to defend himself (11:16-33). In chapter twelve, he told how he had been taken up into Paradise and had heard things which he could not reveal (12:1-4). Paul said there was given to me a thorn in the flesh... that I should not be exalted overmuch (12:7-10).
Paul told the Corinthians he was coming to visit them for the third time (12:14; 13:1-6). Whether he came with strength or gentleness depended upon them. He would put to the test those who had spoken against him. However, he expressed his hope that they would repent so he would not have to punish them (13:10).
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