Paul’s response to the division in the Corinthian Church, by Rev Dr John Kwasi Fosu

Text: 1:10-16


In the previous lesson on 1 Corinthians 1:1-9, we learnt that Paul introduces his letter in the form of an overture by commending the believers at Corinth. Paul does that by reminding them about their spiritual blessings in Christ. The Corinthians were called, graced and gifted by God and they had hope from God and testimony for God. Having tactfully commended them, Paul begins to discuss their weaknesses and for that matter their sins. This lesson then focuses on the matter of church divisions.

The challenge of division in the Corinthian Church

Paul responds first to the matter of church divisions that had come to him from the household of Chloe, and also from the friends who visited him (16:17-18). It is apparent here that bad news of church problems spreads so rapidly while the good news of the Gospel never seems to spread quickly at all. To Paul, therefore, there were divisions and contentions in the church (1 Cor 3:3, 11:18, and 12:25) that was obvious even at the Lord’s Table (1 Cor 11:20-34)! Paul pleads with them to be “perfectly joined together” (1 Cor 1:10). The Greek used here for this appeal is a medical term that refers to the setting of a bone that was broken or out of joint. The implication here is that whenever believers cannot get along, the body of Christ which is the church suffers.

Reasons for the division in the Corinthian Church

Paul explains why the Corinthian Church was divided. They had their eyes on the people who were their leaders instead of on Christ. It seems clear here that in the first place, the believers were trusting in the wisdom of men (1 Cor 2:5). Secondly, they were glorying in the works of men (1 Cor 3:21) and, in the third place, they were comparing one servant with another and boasting about men (1 Cor 4:6). In 1 Cor 3, Paul proves that this obsession with human leaders was a mark of carnal living, demonstrating that these “spiritual Corinthians” were actually babes in Christ.

The four factions in the Corinthian Church

This section of our studies focuses on describing the divisions of the groups that existed in the Corinthian Church. These groups centred around individual leaders in the Church. It is important to point out that the understanding of this situation of the Corinthian Church concerning their spiritual allegiance around persons has a greater understanding of all the issues discussed in the entire letter of 1 Corinthians.

  1. One group followed Paul, and they may have been predominantly Gentiles because he was the apostle to the Gentiles. John Drane describes this group as the “‘Paul Party’ who would consist of libertines, people who had heard Paul’s original preaching on the freedom of the Christian and concluded from it that, once they had responded to the Christian gospel, they could live as they liked.”
  2. Another group followed Apollos, the learned orator (Acts 18:24-28), probably because they enjoyed his wonderful speaking. In the observation of John Drane, “‘Apollos Party’ was probably devotees of classical Greek outlook. Acts 18:24-28 tells us that Apollos was a Jew from Alexandria, an eloquent man, well versed in the scripture. In Alexandria, many Jewish teachers lived and taught. One of them was Philo (20 BC-AD 45) who sought to show that all that was in Greek philosophy had actually been foreshadowed by Moses and other Old Testament writers. Apollos’ group is likely to enjoy teachings of this kind.”
  3. The third group, probably Jews, leaned toward Peter, the apostle to the Jews (Galatians 2:7). John Drane observes that they were the “‘Cephas Party’ is believed to be legalists who like the Judaizers in Jerusalem, believed that the Christian life meant the strict observance of the Jewish Law, both ritual and moral. Many of them had probably been Jews or Gentile “God-fearers” before they converted to Christianity.”
  4. The fourth group tried to prove it was more spiritual than the rest by following “Jesus alone” and rejecting human leaders. According to Drane, “‘Christ Party’ probably consisted of a group of men and women who considered themselves to be above the groups that had developed around the personalities of ordinary men. The assumption is that they wanted the same direct contact with Christ (Himself), in the same way as they had experienced direct mystical contacts with gods in the pagan Eastern Mystery Religions.”

How Paul skillfully responds to the issue

Paul explains that Jesus is not divided. We are all part of one body (1 Cor 12:12-31). Jesus, not human leaders, died for us; and we are baptized in the name of Jesus, not the names of human leaders!  Paul goes on to say that he is happy he did not baptize more believers in Corinth than he did, lest the division be even worse. Paul’s helpers in the ministry did the baptizing since Paul’s special commission was to evangelize. This fact does not reduce the significance of Baptism in any way. Acts 18:8 informs us that many of the Corinthians believed and were baptized, so Paul practised water baptism.


This lesson has focussed on Paul’s address on the issue of division in the Corinthian Church. To Paul, the divisions existed because the Corinthianshad their eyes on their leaders instead of on Christ. It seems obvious that comparing one servant with others and boasting about men (1 Cor 4:6) is not good for Church health. Consequently, any mark of division in God’s Church shows carnal Christian life. We are therefore encouraged to maintain the unity of the church.


  1. How did Paul get to know the problems of division in the Corinthian Church?
  2. Describe the division in the Corinthian Church.
  3. What causes division in contemporary Churches, especially African Churches in the diaspora?
  4. How did Paul respond to the issue of division and what can we learn from it?

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