1 Corinthians

Book by Book continues with the second epistle to be covered in this series: First Corinthians. First Corinthians is a book filled with practical advice and popular verses. But, like the rest of the New Testament, it has a historical and cultural setting that allows us to reap a richer meaning from the text.

Date, Occasion, and Background

The city of Corinth was very prosperous due to several trade routes running through its territory. Corinth was the capital of the region of Achaia and the seat of the Roman proconsul. Corinth was well-known for its sin and sensual lifestyle. A temple for the goddess Aphrodite was located in the city which propagated temple prostitution as a way of worship. The population of the city was largely cosmopolitan, being comprised of locals, foreigners, Gentiles, and Jews.

Ruins of Aphrodite’s temple via wikimedia commons by Bernard Gagnon

Ruins of Aphrodite’s temple via wikimedia commons by Bernard Gagnon

The establishment of the Corinthian church is recorded for us in Acts 18. Paul, Silas, and Timothy stayed with a God-fearing Gentile named Titus Justus who lived beside a synagogue. Paul converted Crispus the ruler of the synagogue and many other Corinthians (Acts 18:7-8).

The church in Corinth was bound to have some problems because of its pagan environment, and many of these issues are recorded in the Corinthian correspondence. It is believed by most scholars that First Corinthians was written in the spring of AD 57 and there is no solid reason to reject this date.

An Overview of First Corinthians

First Corinthians can essentially be outlined by problems within the Corinthian church. The letter we have as First Corinthians was apparently a reply by Paul addressing concerns sent to him by the Corinthian church (1 Cor. 1:11; 1 Cor. 7:1, 25; 8:1; 12:1; 16:1, 12). First Corinthians begins with a discussion of the division that appeared within the Corinthian church (1 Cor. 1-3). Paul then defends his apostolic ministry (1 Cor. 4).

In First Corinthians 5, Paul discusses the seriousness of sexual immorality and how to handle an unrepentant brother (1 Cor. 5:1, 5-7). First Corinthians 6 deals both with the problem of believers dragging each other into court over petty issues and the problem of sexual immorality and impurity (1 Cor. 6:1, 6, 9-11, 18). First Corinthians 7 deals with advice surrounding marriage and Christians living as they were called (1 Cor. 7:2-5, 17, 25f).

Paul goes on to deal with the issues of conscience and eating foods offered to idols (1 Cor. 8), Paul’s rights and life as an apostle (1 Cor. 9), warnings against immorality (1 Cor. 10:1-22), glorifying God in everything (1 Cor. 10:23-11:1), the cultural issue of head coverings (1 Cor. 11:2-16), and correcting issues around the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:17-34).

Paul then discusses the correct use and place of spiritual gifts for the sake of unity and upbuilding (1 Cor. 12, 13, 14). In First Corinthians 15, Paul discusses the mistaken views of the resurrection amongst the Corinthians. Paul adamantly defends the reality of the resurrection of Christ and the impending resurrection of all (1 Cor. 15:20).

In First Corinthians 16, Paul gives the Corinthian church instructions concerning a collection for the Jerusalem church (1 Cor. 16:1-3). Paul finishes his letter by expressing his travel plans (1 Cor. 16:5-11) and giving final instructions and greetings (1 Cor. 16:12-24).

Noteworthy Themes/Verses

There are several important themes and verses in First Corinthians.

  • The sinfulness of division in Christ (1 Cor. 1:10-13).

  • The knowledge of God delivered to us (1 Cor. 2:12-16).

  • The Christian is a temple of the Holy Spirit and should live a holy life (1 Cor. 6:18-20).

  • Paul’s discourse on marriage given the “present distress“ (1 Cor. 7:1ff).

  • The Christian approach to conscience issues (1 Cor. 8:4-6, 11-13).

  • Paul’s approach to evangelism (1 Cor. 9:19-23).

  • Do all to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).

  • Instructions on the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:23-29).

  • The biblical definition of love (1 Cor. 13:1-7)

  • The importance of orderly worship (1 Cor. 14:33-40).

  • The certainty of the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:12-20).

Growing from First Corinthians

First Corinthians is an incredible book in several respects. Becuase it is so thematic, it is easy to read is just as a topical collection of doctrine, but it’s much more. The topics addressed in First Corinthians reflect the struggles of a real, 1st century congregation. They struggled with sin, disunity, pride, and understanding doctrinal concepts. Yet, they were still a church that belonged to God (1 Cor. 1:2). While they certainly had some things to fix, they were God’s people in the world. We should take a lesson from the Corinthian church about God’s patience. Doctrinal and ethical purity is important, but thankfully God gives us the mercy and patience to reach those objectives.

Further Reading

New Testament Introduction by Donald Guthrie

An Introduction to the New Testament by D. A. Carson and Douglas Moo

An Introduction to the New Testament: Contexts, Methods & Ministry Formation by David A, deSilva