Paul's First Letter to the Corinthian church is one of the most substantial books of the New Testament. In the writings of Paul, it is rivaled only in size and scope by the Epistle to the Romans. This letter deals with substantive issues effecting one of the largest, most important churches that the apostle helped to establish. As such, there is an extensive amount of information available to study and examine when approaching a work of this importance and magnitude.
Corinth is an ancient city situation on natural trade routes connecting Greece with the rest of the world. The city sits on a narrow neck of land that separates two important bodies of water, the Saronic Gulf to the East and what became known as the Corinthian Gulf to the West. All of the land traffic that flowed from Northern Greece to Southern Greece had to go through Corinth. As such, Corinth was a prosperous center of commerce.
Corinth was also an important religious center for the Greeks. In particular, the city held the famous, or many would say infamous, temple dedicated to Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. This temple stood on a strategically important hill overlooking the city, the Acropolis. At any one time there were to be a thousand priestesses dedicated to this temple and these women were sacred prostitutes. In the evenings, they would come from the temple and openly ply their trade in the streets of Corinth. As could be expected, over time these practices led to the well-deserved reputation of wickedness and lascivious behavior of the citizens of this great city.
It is to such a city and such an atmosphere that the Apostle Paul brought the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the gospel thrived there. Paul stayed longer in Corinth, eighteen months, than in any other city except Ephesus. But, while the church thrived, it did not necessarily mature. Perhaps because the culture ran so opposed to the teachings of God, the church at Corinth continued to struggle for a very long time with basic issues concerning unity and moral living.
The First Letter to the Corinthians was written about 55 AD from Ephesus. News came to Paul there that there were troubles at Corinth. Trouble that had to do with divisions that had developed within the church and trouble that concerned sexual immorality. Unlike other letters, it is quite easy in Corinthians to see exactly what concerns Paul. For instance, in the letters to Galatia and Colosia the exact nature of the heresy that Paul disputes is still debated today. In the First Letter to the Corinthians the problems that Paul writes about are more clear and obvious.
By way of dealing with the issues that arose in Corinth, we have in this letter some of the most basic teachings of the New Testament. Paul deals with church discipline, marriage, the Lord's Supper, spiritual gifts and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. In each of these areas, the instructions that Paul writes to the Corinthians become the definitive writings on these subjects.
Finally, in the end Paul prepares them so that he can come to them at a future date and collect money from them to support the poor Christians of Jerusalem. He admonishes them, he instructs them and then encourages them to selfless giving. In these ways Paul seeks to take a church that is thriving, but immature, and lead them on toward maturity in Christ.
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