1 Corinthians Background

I. The City

Without question' Corinth was the most important city of Greece. It was the capital of the Roman province of Achaia and was ideally located on the empire's most important travel route from east to west. Fourth in size among the great cities of the Roman Empire, Corinth was noted for commerce, culture, and corruption. Everyone knew what "a Corinthian girl" was, and "a Corinthian feast" was the depth of luxury and license. Corinth was the headquarters for the worship of Venus and for some of the mystery cults from Egypt and Asia.

II. The Church

Paul visited Corinth on his second missionary journey, after he had met with seeming failure in cultured Athens (Acts 18:1-17). He made friends with two Jewish tent-makers, Aquila and Priscilla, and stayed in Corinth for a year and a half He reasoned with Jews in the synagogue week after week, and Silas and Timothy joined him after they had completed their ministry in Berea. The ruler of the synagogue was converted and baptized by Paul (Acts 18:8, see also 1 Cor 1:14-16). Christ gave Paul special encouragement to stay in Corinth (Acts 18:9); after a year and a half, he departed for Ephesus. He left behind a church richly gifted in spiritual things (1 Cor 1:4-7), but sorely tempted by the worldly wisdom and the wickedness of the city itself.

(Wiersbe's Expository Outlines on the New Testament)

III. The Correspondence

"Jesus yes! The church, no!"

Remember when that slogan was popular among young people in the '60s? They certainly could have used it with sincerity in Corinth back in A.D. 56, because the local church there was in serious trouble. Sad to say, the problems did not stay within the church family; they were known by the unbelievers outside the church.

To begin with, the church at Corinth was a defiled church. Some of its members were guilty of sexual immorality, others got drunk; still others were using the grace of God to excuse worldly living. It was also a divided church, with at least four different groups competing for leadership (1 Cor 1:12). This meant it was a disgraced church. Instead of glorifying God, it was hindering the progress of the Gospel.

How did this happen? The members of the church permitted the sins of the city to get into the local assembly. Corinth was a polluted city, filled with every kind of vice and worldly pleasure. About the lowest accusation you could make against a man in that day would be to call him "a Corinthians." People would know what you were talking about.

Corinth was also a proud, philosophical city, with many itinerant teachers promoting their speculations. Unfortunately, this philosophical approach was applied to the Gospel by some members of the church, and this fostered division. The congregation was made up of different "schools of thought" instead of being united behind the Gospel message.

If you want to know what Corinth was like, read Rom 1:18-32. Paul wrote the Roman epistle while in Corinth, and he could have looked out the window and seen the very sins that he listed!

Of course, when you have proud people, depending on human wisdom, adopting the lifestyle of the world, you are going to have problems. In order to help them solve their problems, Paul opened his letter by reminding them of their calling in Christ. He pointed out three important aspects of this calling.

(Bible Exposition Commentary)


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