Corinth was a port city and the capital of Achaia. Corinth, like many port cities, had a reputation for sexual immorality. It had a large transient population which brought a variety of trades and religious beliefs to the city. Rituals and clubs became important ways for people in Corinth to achieve social stability. Clubs functioned to give their members social standing by their participation in the clubs rituals and events. Often these club activities involved some level of participation in pagan rituals and activities.
Paul established the church in Corinth (1 Cor 4:15, Acts 18:1-18) Members were both Jews and Gentiles of mixed social backgrounds. Status and social standing were important in the Roman Empire and the church in Corinth had difficulty shedding the normal expectations associated with social status and wealth. Being one of the elite and having power were desirable accomplishments in the ancient world. In the Roman world it was very important to know where one was in the social hierarchy. The Corinthian church struggled to live in a pluralistic world which valued honor and social status. How does one live as Christian in a society that challenges one’s beliefs? How does a church shed societies norms within its life as the body of Christ?
The difficulties in the church in Corinth appear to be a result of over enthusiasm. They were excited by the power of the Holy Spirit and the Spirits powers that had been given to them. The result was a kind of spiritual elitism which led to the development of factions. Also they were confused about what Christian maturity and perfection involved, particularly in this life.
We have in the New Testament two letters from Paul to the church at Corinth. Scholar believe Paul wrote five ( or perhaps more) letters to Corinth. There may have been two letters written before 1 Corinthians. When we read 1 Corinthians we are entering in the midst of a discussion.
In the First Letter to the Corinthians, Paul responds to concerns about his credibility as an authoritative apostle and gives counsel about moral behavior and community practices which have become a source of contention within the church.We are unsure if Paul visited Corinth in between writing the letters. That visit, if it occurred, may be the “painful” visit of 2 Cor 2:1. In response to his “painful” visit, Paul may have written the “letter in tears”. Most scholars think 1st Corinthians was written about 54 AD.
1:1-9 Opening: God’s Calling
1:10-4: 21 Baptized into Christ: The Power and Wisdom of God
1:10-17 The Problem
1:18-2:16 Discourse on Divine Wisdom
1:18-2:5 The Wisdom of God , the Wisdom of the World
2:6-16 Wisdom for the Mature
3:1-23 Rhetorical Proofs
v5-9 Paul and Apollos
4:1-21 Paul’s Authority
5:1-6:20 Disorders in Corinth
5:1-13 Association with Immoral Members
6:1-8 Lawsuits in Pagan Courts
6:9-20 Glorify God in Your Bodies
7:1-14:40, 16 Discussion of questions from the Corinthians
7:1-16 Sex and Marriage
7:17-40 Eschatology and Changes in Social and Marital Status
8:1-11:1 Rights and Responsibilities of the Ekklesia
8:1-13 Concerning Food Sacrificed to Idols
9:1-27 Paul’s Apostolic Rights and Self- Limitation
10:1-13 Warning against Overconfidence
10:14-22 Examples, Implications
10:23-11:1 Freedom and Our Responsibility
11:2-14:40 Problems in Community Life and Worship
11:2-16 Women, Propriety in Dress at Public Prayer
11:17-34 Abuses at the Lord’s Supper
12:1-31 The Gifts of the Spirit
14:1b-40 Spiritual Gifts: Prophecy and Speaking in Tongues
15:1-58 The Resurrection
15:1-11 The Gospel of Christ’s death and Resurrection
15:12-34 The Significance for us
15:35-58 The Nature of the Resurrection
16:1-24 Final Messages
Some scholars believe that 2 Corinthians is made up of edited parts of several letters written at various times. Other scholars disagree and think 2 Corinthians is one letter. No matter which is correct, Paul’s relationship with Corinth is in trouble and the letter or letters are an attempt by Paul at reconciliation.
1:1-11 Salutation and Thanksgiving
1:12-7:16 Paul’s Apostolic Ministry and the Crisis with Corinth
1:12-2-13 Assurances of Concern
1:12-14 Introductory Plea
1:15-17 About the Visits
1:18-22 God’s Faithfulness
1:23-2:11 The “Sorrowful Visit”
2:12-13 Coming to Macedonia
2:14-5:19 Comments on Apostleship
2:14-3:6 Spreading the Gospel
3:7-18 The Ministry of the New Covenant
4:1-18 True Treasure, Mortal Ministry
5:1-10 Confidence facing Death.
5:11- 15 Living for Christ
5:16-19 The Ministry of Reconciliation
5:20-7:3 Appeals about Reconciliation
5:20-6:2 Be Reconciled to God
6:3-10 Paul’s “Resume”
6:11-7:3 Be Reconciled to Your Apostle
7:4-16 Paul’s Joy at Restored Relations
8:1-9:15 The Collection for the Relief of the Jerusalem Church
8:1-6 Titus’ Return
8:7-15 A Matter of Equality
8:16-24 Commendation of Titus and the Brothers
9:1-5 A Further Appeal on the Collection
9:6-10 On Giving Generously
9:11-15 A Ministry of Praise
10-13 Vindicating Paul’s Authority
10:1-18 An Appeal for Obedience.
10:1-6 No Worldly War
10:7-11 Question of Authority
10:12-18 Question of Jurisdiction
11:1-12:13 “Fool’s Speech”
11:1-15 Paul’s Reply to Opponents
11:16-33 Paul’s Boasting
12:1-13 Further Boastings: Strength in Weakness
12:14- 13:10 Paul Plans to Visit Corinth
12:14-18 The Allegation of Fraud
12:19-21 About Improper Behavior
13:1-9 Warning and Admonition
13:10 The Purpose of the Letter
13:11-13 Epistolary Closing
This United Methodist site has a wealth of information about Corinth and Paul.
A prayer from Origen (c. 185 – c. 254) an early church father from Alexandria, for your use as you read 1 Thessalonians.
Lord, inspire us to read your Scriptures and meditate upon them day and night. We beg you to give us real understanding of what we need, that we in turn may put its precepts into practice. Yet we know that understanding and good intentions are worthless, unless rooted in your graceful love. So we ask that the words of Scriptures may also be not just signs on a page, but channels of grace into our hearts. Amen.
Read More About It
Furnish, Victor Paul “2 Corinthians” in HarperCollins Bible Commentary, rev. ed.James L Mays, ed. (New York: Society of Bible Literature) 2000.
Johnson, Luke Timothy, The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation, rev. ed. (Minneapolis:Fortress Press) 1999. Chapter 12 “The Corinthian Correspondence”.
Knox,John, John Reumann “I Corinthians” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Bruce M. Metzger, Roland E. Murphy eds. (New York: Oxford University Press) 1994.
Knox, John, John Reumann “2 Corinthians” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Bruce M. Metzger, Roland E. Murphy eds. (New York: Oxford University Press) 1994.
Schussler Fiorenza, Elisabeth “1 Corinthians” in HarperCollins Bible Commentary, rev. ed.James L Mays, ed. (New York: Society of Bible Literature) 2000.