Introduction To The First Epistle Of Paul To The Corinthians
This first epistle of Paul to the Corinthians is actually not the first letter that Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth. In 1Co 5:9, Paul said that he had written a previous letter. That letter has been lost. This is the first of two letters that have been preserved.
The book of 1 Corinthians is the second longest of the Pauline epistles, surpassed only by the book of Romans, which it follows in the traditional order of Scriptures.
Paul made it clear at the beginning of this letter that his reason for writing this epistle was because members of Chloe's household had informed him of divisions in the church (1Co 1:11). Paul mentioned three men by name who had come to him from Corinth (1Co 16:17), but it is not certain if these were the members of Chloe's household to whom Paul referred.
Paul's main purpose in this book was to correct the carnality that had damaged the unity of the believers and to answer specific questions. 1Co 1:10 sums up his intent: "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment."
Paul dealt with this disunity in three main areas. First, he countered the division caused over a difference of opinion as to whom the people should be following (1Co 1:10-4:21). Some of the church claimed Paul as their spiritual leader, some Apollos, and some Peter (1Co 1:12).
Second, Paul reprimanded the believers for the immoral conduct of certain individuals (incest, 1Co 5; lawsuits, 1Co 6; marriage relationships, 1Co 7; eating things sacrificed to idols, 1Co 8) and the passivity of the others in not dealing with these problems (1Co 5:1-11:16).
Third, Paul dealt with the conduct of the Corinthians in their church services (1Co 11:17-14:40). This section includes instructions for the Lord's Supper (1Co 11) and the operation of the gifts in the church (1Co 12-14).
Paul concluded this letter with the most complete arguments found in the New Testament on the resurrection of our bodies (1Co 15). 1Co 16 gives instructions for the collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem as well as miscellaneous instructions and salutations.
The Corinthian church was the most carnal church that we have record of Paul dealing with. Paul had established this church during his second missionary journey (see note 1 at Ac 18:22) when he spent eighteen months ministering in Corinth. He had already written them once before to instruct them on church discipline toward an individual who had committed fornication (1Co 5:9-10).
Corinth was a Greek city that was unsurpassed in its moral wickedness (see note 1 at Ac 18:1), and this background had dulled the perception of the new believers as to what was proper conduct. Paul dealt with a number of moral and ethical issues to provide these believers with God's perspective of right and wrong.
These people's pagan background was also evident in the way they turned the Lord's Supper into a drunken feast and the way they administered the spiritual gifts in their services.
Three chapters of 1 Corinthians are devoted to the subject of spiritual gifts (1Co 12-14). This is the most information on spiritual gifts in one place in the entire Bible. This is the only place in the Bible that guidelines are set forth for the operation of the gifts in an assembly of believers.
Some people have tried to capitalize on the fact that these believers had all the spiritual gifts (1Co 1:7) and yet were carnal (1Co 3:3), to argue that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are not necessary or that they are even of the devil. However, Paul never told these believers that their gifts were of the devil. Despite these flagrant abuses, Paul told them, "Covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues" (1Co 14:39). He taught them how to properly use the gifts, not to dispose of the gifts.
Paul has never seriously been challenged as the author of this letter. The letter begins with a salutation that proclaims Paul as the author. There are numerous statements throughout the book that link the writing to the Apostle Paul, and the style and doctrinal beliefs are nearly universally thought to be those of Paul's. Clement of Rome spoke of Paul as being the author of this work as early as A.D. 96.
Date And Place Of Writing
This letter to the Corinthians was written after Paul's second missionary trip (circa A.D. 51-53 - see note 1 at Ac 18:22), where he established the church in Corinth (Ac 18:1-17), and before the end of his third missionary trip (circa A.D. 54-58 - see note 2 at Ac 18:23). This can be seen by looking at Paul's statements in 1Co 16:1-9.
Paul had not yet gone to Corinth the second time (1Co 16:5), which Acts records as happening toward the end of his third missionary trip (Ac 20:1-3). Therefore, the date of writing can be placed around A.D. 57. Paul clearly stated that he was writing from the city of Ephesus (1Co 16:8, see note 3 at Ac 18:19) and would remain there until Pentecost. This narrows the time that this book was written even further to be around the end of A.D. 56.
About The Author
Numerous notes about the Apostle Paul are scattered throughout the book of Acts. A brief history of Paul's life can be found in note 1 at Ac 9:1.