In our attempt to build relationships in Christ as our focus, it is important to study the book of 1 Corinthians. This lesson studies the introduction of 1 Corinthians. Here the overview, the city of Corinth, the Church and the theological themes will be looked at in brief.
Overview of 1 Corinthians
Like a chameleon lizard which changes its colour according to its surroundings for protective reasons and to aid in its survival, many Christians easily change their lifestyles to fit in and adapt to their environment. However, believers of Christ are new creations. They are born from above and changed from within. They have values and lifestyles that confront the world and clash with accepted morals. Unlike Chameleons, true believers don’t blend in very well.
The believers in Corinth were struggling with their environment which affected their relationships. They were surrounded by corruption and every conceivable sin. They felt the pressure to adapt. They knew they were free in Jesus, but what did this freedom mean? How should they view idols or sexuality? What should they do about marriage? What should they do about women in the church? And what should they do about gifts of the Spirit? The church was being undermined by immorality and spiritual immaturity.
Paul heard of their struggles and wrote this letter to address their problems, heal their divisions and answer their questions. Paul confronted them with their sin and their need for corrective action and a clear commitment to Jesus. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians calls all believers to be careful not to blend in with the world and accept its values and lifestyles. We must live Jesus –centred, blameless and loving lives that make a difference for God. As we read and study 1 Corinthians, let us examine our values in light of complete commitments to Jesus Christ.
Paul as the author
Paul was a Jew by birth and from the tribe of Benjamin. His Hebrew name was Saul. He had a Roman citizenship in which his Roman name was Paul. Before his conversion, Paul received training as a Pharisee and Rabbi under Gameliel. Paul could speak Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic. It can be said that this dynamic and diverse linguistic background of Paul to some extent contributed to the reason why God commissioned him as an Apostle to the Gentiles. Paul was indeed a man of rich multicultural background. Paul’s initial Israelite religious heritage and practice grounded in the Old Testament and shaped by his Pharisaic commitment probably prepared him to be a man of prayer and a man who had in depth knowledge in the word of God. An experience that shaped Paul’s spirituality was his encounter with the living Christ on the road to Damascus.
How many letters did Paul write to the Corinthians?
It is commonly believed among bilical scholars that Paul wrote four letters to the Corinthian Church with two letters being lost. His first letter is described as the previous letter which was lost (I Cor. 5:9). Paul’s second letter has thus come to be known as the 1 Corinthians. The third letter is reffered to as the severe letter which also got lost (possibly part of which is recorded in II Cor. 2:1-11; 7:8-12). Then he wrote the last letter which is now II Corinthians.
The City of Corinth
Corinth was a very important seaport city of Greece that was characterized by commerce, culture, and corruption. Lawsuits were the mode of settling disputes. Even sons could sue their fathers. Religiously, the people of Corinth were noted for their worship of Aphrodite who was the Goddess of Love. To the service and honour of this goddess were 1000 cult prostitutes. There were also mystery cults from Egypt and Asia. Having a population of about 700,000 people the city was also described as an immoral city. To say a “Corinthian girl” meant a loose person. Moreover, the phenomenon of worldly wisdom was perceived to be a religion. Thus there were the Gnostics, Epicureans and Stoics.
Paul visited Corinth on his second missionary journey, in 50 AD, 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. Silas and Timothy joined him after they had completed their ministry in Berea. The ruler of the synagogue, Crispus was converted and baptized by Paul (Acts 18:8, see also 1 Corinthians 1:14-16). Jesus 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 Corinthians 1:4-7), but sorely tempted by the worldly wisdom and the wickedness of the city itself.
In 55-56 AD, on Paul’s 3rd missionary journey, he returned to Ephesus where he remained for nearly three years (Acts 20:31). Since Paul had been in Corinth, the spiritual conditions in the church had greatly deteriorated. He may have received reports about this from friends in the church. While Paul was in Ephesus, he likely wrote the Corinthians a letter mentioned in 5:9 [which we do not have] warning them not to associate with immoral and wicked “believers.”
From members of Chloe’s house (1:11) Paul learned that the Corinthian church had divided into factions. He also received an inquiry from Corinth requesting his advice and guidance on certain questions of interest to the church (7:1). Probably, a delegation composed of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus may have brought these questions to Paul (16:17). based on the reports and the request, Paul wrote I Corinthians during the later part of his stay in Ephesus and sent it to the church.
Overview and Content of I Corinthians
This book is important theologically and practically. Theologically, Paul presents many vital truths dealing with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus and the role of the Holy Spirit in spiritual gifts. Practically, this letter demonstrates the personal abilities and character of Paul as pastor and church leader. It demonstrates Paul’s wisdom and concern for the congregations and provides principles for us to follow as we deal with problems in our own churches.
- Explain the difference between Paul and Saul.
- To what extent can the city you live in be likened to the City of Corinth?
- What does it mean to “Corinthianise?”
- Give three ways in which the struggles with the environment affect your relationships.