About the Corinthian Letters
- Paul founded the first house churches in Corinth (Acts 18:1-11) on his 2MT.
- Paul stayed in Corinth the first time for 18 months in AD 51-52.
- After Paul left, Apollos came from Ephesus to work with the house churches in Corinth.
- Paul visited Corinth again on his third missionary trip.
Place and Time of Writing
- Macedonia [present-day western Turkey] on his second missionary trip.
- This would place the time in the early 50's, so we will say 53. [Remember, all dates are approximate.]
- Note: Some scholars believe that Paul wrote I & II Corinthians during his third missionary trip. This helps to show that New Testament scholars have different opinions on most points in the New Testament.
- Paul wrote this letter as a response to problems that the Corinthian Christians experienced.
- He started the house churches during a visit to Corinth while on his second missionary trip.
- This letter does not contain the second part on how to live as a Christian.
- Paul did not need to add that section because he dedicates the whole letter to giving instructions on how to live as a Christian.
- Paul revisited the house churches there on his third missionary trip.
- House churches in Corinth.
- How to handle various problems in the house churches and how live as a Christian.
More details about I Corinthians
Paul introduced Christianity to Corinth on his 2MT in the early 50s. He remained in Corinth and taught the Christians for 1 1/2 years. At first Paul worked as a tentmaker and spent his free time preaching and discussing Christianity in the synagogues on Saturdays. Eventually Silas and Timothy came to Corinth, and he devoted his time to preaching and teaching. Many house churches were started during this time.
Eventually some Jews began abusing Paul and he decided to focus on the Gentiles in Corinth. Even so, over time the Jews tried to get Paul in trouble by bringing him into court on the charge of disturbing the peace. The case was rejected and Paul remained in Corinth.
[From this you can see that Paul was used to defending the idea that Jesus came to provide relationships with everyone and not just the Jews. So when he wrote Romans, he was well prepared for any question they had.]
Later on during Paul’s third missionary trip, and while he was in Ephesus, Paul learned that the house churches in Corinth developed problems after he left. He probably learned about the problems from three men who came to visit him who he mentioned in 16:17 (Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus). The Christians had become argumentative and quarreling over how to handle problems in their churches. Remember that the Gospels had not been written, and so we don’t know how much of the life or even words of Jesus was available to them. They did have Paul’s teachings (he had stayed there for 1 1/2 years), but, in his absence, problems arose and they did not know how to handle them. Even more, they developed cliques and competing groups instead of working together for solutions. Paul did not want to go to Corinth immediately, and so decided to write a letter instead. Therefore, the focus of the letter is to help the house churches work through their problems.
One note: In all these solutions, Paul’s ultimate goal is for the house churches and Christians to have unity; watch for this idea as his main solution to all the problems.
The problems (I will only cover 3)
1. Answer to a report of divisions: 1:10-17.
- Personality groups centering around Paul, Apollos, and Peter led to divisions and false pride among the Corinthians.
- 1: 11, 12 = “My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ.’”
- Who were these people and did each of them have followers? Let's look at the characteristics of the followers of each person:
- Paul: All the Christians there knew that Paul introduced the city to Christianity, and Paul probably led many of the Christians to Christ. They were very loyal to Paul even after they left. Think about it this way: imagine a church where everyone loves the pastor. If the pastor leaves and a new pastor is installed, some of the people might still have fond memories of the previous pastor and continue to long for his return. That is probably the case of some of the Christians in the house churches in Corinth after Paul left: they still longed to have Paul back.
- Apollos: Paul did not want to leave the house churches with no guide after he left, and so he sent Apollos to Corinth as the leader of the new movement. Paul mentions him in I Corinthians 3:6: “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.” Apparently something happened and Apollos left his position of leadership and returned to Paul. At the end of I Corinthians Paul mentions this (16:12): “Now about our brother Apollos: I strongly urged him to go to you with the brothers. He was quite unwilling to go now, but he will go when he has the opportunity.” Once the three men from Corinth reached Paul, and Paul wrote this letter, Paul encouraged Apollos to return with the three men back to Corinth, but Apollos refused to go. Nevertheless, some people did want Apollos back as their leader.
- Cephas: This was the name of Peter until Jesus met him and changed his name to Peter: The Jewish Christians who believed that Christians should still be circumcised and follow the Law would have been attracted to Peter’s pre-Council of Jerusalem ideas rather than Paul's ideas. Although Peter had changed his position, his old ideas still lingered and this group in Corinth still held to the old ideas.
- Christ: Some Christians did not get involved in what they thought was probably politics and so basically said they were Christian.
- Paul’s solution: He reminded them that they were first and foremost followers of Christ. He reminded them that he, Apollos, and Peter were simply servants of God. Paul called them to unity and to look beyond having preferences to earthly leaders. Basically, as I read it, Paul insinuates that they choose a leader that they can all (or almost all) agree with as long as they remain unified.
2. Answer to report of adultery (chapter 5)
- Paul addressed the incident of adultery between a member of the church and his stepmother.
- 5:1: “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father’s wife.”
- This sin is widely known, but the house churches have not acted. One reason for this could be confusion among the Christians in Corinth over using or not using the Old Testament Law. After all, Paul told them not to follow the Law, which included the 10 Commandments, and so perhaps they were unclear as to how to handle adultery. Nevertheless, Paul assured them that this was wrong and that they needed to act.
- Paul’s solution: He directed them not toassociate with the man until he stops the behavior. Paul’s purpose in following this course of action is to bring the man to repentance so that God could forgive him. To “repent” means to stop the behavior and be truly sorry that you committed the behavior in the first place. This is different then being sorry because you got caught. True repentance would bring the man back into a proper relationship (called “fellowship”) with the house churches and with God. Today this action is referred to as “church discipline.” This worked and the man did change. But then the Corintian Christians had another question: should the let the man return to the house churches? Paul discusses that in II Corinthians.
3. Answer to legal action of a believer against another believer in civil court (6:1-8)
- Another indication of their poor judgment was when Christians in Corinth sued other Christians in a civil court. Paul believed this was wrong for two reasons.
- Christians suing Christians in court promoted an incorrect understanding of the message of Jesus. By suing each other, non-Christians were given an example that led them to ask: “Why should I accept Jesus? Christians are suing people like everyone else does.” Therefore this was a bad example of how Christians were supposed to act toward each other.
- It showed immaturity in the house churches. Paul chastised them by saying, “Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the churches.” (6:4)
Paul discusses other issues and problems, but we will only examine those three.
Comparing and Contrasting Romans and I Corinthians
- Who is Paul focusing on?
- Romans: the faith of the individual
- I Corinthians: the problems in the house churches
- What does he say God wants from each of them?
- Romans: Each individual should have faith in Jesus.
- I Corinthians: The house churches should have unity.
- How are the lettters arranged?
- Romans: Question-and-answer format
- I Corinthians: Problem-and-answer format
Outline of I Corinthians
- 1:1-9: Greetings
- 1:10-chapter 4: Divisions amongst the Christians
- 5: Man in adultery
- 6: Lawsuits among some Christians
- 7: Christian marriage
- 8: Whether or not to eat food sacrificed to idols
- 9: Paul defended his teachings
- 10:1-13: Paul used the Old Testament to prove his teachings
- 10:14-end of 11: Instructions on taking Communion and Worship
- 12: Paul discussed spiritual gifts
- 13: Paul discussed true love
- 14: Paul discussed prophecy and speaking in tongues
- 15: A short lesson on the resurrection of Christ and humans
- 16: Instructions on giving money to God and closing with personal remarks
Readings from I Corinthians
- Paul’s Greeting (1:3-9): “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge—because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.”
- A definition of love (13:1-7): “If I speak in the tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
Timeline up to the book of I Corinthians
Dates are approximate.
|63 B.C.||Romans conquer Israel.|
|27 B.C.||Pax Romana began and lasted until A.D. 180.|
|4 B.C.||Jesus born.|
|All dates after this are A.D.|
|30||Jesus was crucified, buried, rose from the dead, and ascended to heaven.
Apostles travel to Jerusalem and choose Matthias to replace Judas as an Apostle.
Day of Pentecost: Peter assumes leadership of Christianity.
|30-50||Peter was leader of Christianity.|
|33||Jesus appeared to Paul and Paul became a Christian.|
|48-50||Paul's First Missionary Trip.|
|50||Council of Jerusalem; Paul became one of the main Christian leaders.|
|50-55||Paul's Second Missionary Trip.|
|53||I Corinthians written|
|55-60||Paul's Third Missionary Trip.|
|60-62||Paul arrested in Jerusalem and taken to Rome.|
|62-63||(Not in Acts) Paul probably released from prison during this time.|
|63-65||(Not in Acts) Paul probably traveled. He may have gone to Spain.|
|64||Fire in Rome and Christians persecuted by Emperor Nero.|
|65||(Not in Acts)Paul back in Rome; he and Peter arrested and martyred: Peter crucified upside down and Paul beheaded.|
|67||Gospel of Mark written.|
|70||Temple in Jerusalem destroyed by Romans (it has not been rebuilt).|
|80||Gospels of Matthew and Luke written.|
|90||Gospel of John and book of Acts written.|
|95||Christians persecuted by Emperor Domitian; Apostle John exiled on island of Patmos where he wrote Revelation.|
|96||Emperor Domitian died; Apostle John probably moved to Ephesus.|
|100||Apostle John died; he was the last Apostle to die.|
|390's||New Testament canon "closed" at Councils of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397).|
|1200's||Chapters added to the New Testament.|
|1500's||Verses added to the New Testament.|
©2016 Mark Nickens