1Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes, 2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: (1 Corinthians 1:1–2)
While the Apostle Paul ministered in Ephesus, he took the opportunity to write to the church in Corinth. The epistle in question is known as I Corinthians.
The letter was named for the city of Corinth, where the church was located. With the exception of personal epistles addressed to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, all of Paul’s letters bear the name of the city, or region, where the churches addressed existed.
The Isthmian games, one of the two most famous athletic events of that day (the other being the Olympian games), was hosted by Corinth, resulting in many visitors to the city. Even by the pagan standards of its own culture, Corinth became so morally corrupt that its very name became synonymous with debauchery and moral depravity. To “corinthianize” came to represent gross immorality and drunken debauchery.
In I Corinthians 6:9–10, Paul lists some of the specific sins for which the city was noted and which formerly had characterized many believers in the church there. Tragically, some of the worst sins were still found among some church members. One of those sins, incest, was condemned even by most pagan Gentiles (5:1).
Like most ancient Greek cities, Corinth had an acropolis (lit., “a high city”), which rose 2,000 feet and was used both for defense and for public worship. The most prominent edifice on the acropolis was a temple to Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. Some 1,000 priestesses, who were “religious” prostitutes, lived and worked there and came down into the city in the evening to offer their services to male citizens and foreign visitors.
Unable to fully break with the culture from which it came, the church at Corinth was exceptionally cliquish, showing its carnality and immaturity. After the gifted Apollos had ministered in the church for some time, a group of his admirers established a separate faction which had little to do with the rest of the church. Another group developed that was loyal to Paul, another claimed special allegiance to Peter (Cephas), and still another to Christ alone (see 1 Cor. 1:10–13; 3:1–9).
The most serious problem of the Corinthian church was worldliness, an unwillingness to divorce the culture around them. Most of the believers could not consistently separate themselves from their old, selfish, immoral, and pagan ways. It became necessary for Paul to write to correct this, as well as to command the faithful Christians not only to break fellowship with the disobedient and unrepentant members, but to put those members out of the church (5:9–13).
Before he wrote this inspired letter, Paul had written the church a previous letter (see 5:9), which was also corrective in nature. Because a copy of that letter has never been discovered, it has been referred to as “the lost epistle.” There was another non-canonical letter after 1 Corinthians, usually called “the severe letter” (2 Cor. 2:4).
The most controversial issue for interpretation in I Corinthians concerns the sign gifts discussed in chs. 12–14, particularly the gifts of miracles and speaking in tongues-languages. Many believe that all the gifts are permanent, so that the gift of speaking in tongues will cease (13:8) only at the time the gifts of prophecy and of knowledge cease, namely, when that which is perfect has come (13:10). Those who maintain that tongues and miracles are still valid spiritual gifts in the church today believe they should be exercised with the same power they were in NT times by the apostles. Others believe the miraculous sign gifts have ceased. This controversy continues within the church today.
More to come.
Soli deo Gloria!