© Rosemary Bardsley 2015
Date: Commonly believed to be AD 55.
Original readers: The Church in Corinth.
Background: Acts 18:1-18 relates the history of Paul’s extended original contact with Corinth, during which he preached the Gospel to both Jews and Gentiles.
The city of Corinth: Corinth, a city in south-eastern Greece, was the administrative capital of the Roman province of Achaia. The city that Paul visited in AD 51-52 was just over 100 years old. The former city had been destroyed by Rome in 146BC and its population either killed or forced into slavery. It was rebuilt by Rome in 44BC and populated with racially and culturally diverse people. The ancient city was a centre of worship of both Apollo (god of music, healing and prophecy) and Aphrodite (goddess of love). From the latter, with its many temple prostitutes, the city gained a reputation for immorality. Emperor worship flourished in the rebuilt city.
The reason for Paul’s letter: In this letter Paul addresses one problem after another. These problems in the church at Corinth are obviously the reason he wrote the letter:
The existence of rival factions within the church.
The inaction and complacency of the church towards a case of blatant sexual immorality.
Lawsuits among the believers.
Questions about celibacy, marriage and remarriage.
The issue of eating food offered to idols.
Impropriety and disorder in worship.
Inappropriate attitudes and actions in relation to the Lord’s Supper.
The use and misuse of ‘spiritual gifts’.
The denial of physical resurrection.
Greetings and thanksgiving – 1:1-9, in which Paul affirms the secure salvation of the Corinthian believers.
The first issue: Incorrect perspectives about God’s truth – 1:10 – 4:21
In this extended section Paul addresses the inadequate and flawed understanding of the concept of God’s truth that appears to have been prevalent among the Christians in Corinth. Their epistemology [their theory of knowledge] was at fault; their theology of the Word was at fault. Their error was not so much about what the Word of God taught, but about the Word of God itself, and in particular, about the Gospel itself. These fundamental misconceptions about the Word was the root cause of the three other issues dealt with in this letter.
The second issue: Lack of right moral standards– 5:1 – 11:1
Here Paul deals with the tolerance of gross immorality in the church; lawsuits among believers; various sexual issues, including immorality, marriage, celibacy, separation, re-marriage of widows; and the eating of food sacrificed to idols.
The third issue: Disorder in Christian worship – 11:2 – 14:40
Paul teaches appropriate order in Christian worship in relation to the dress of men and women; the Lord’s Supper; the exercise of gifts; orderly conduct of meetings.
The fourth issue: Wrong perceptions about the resurrection of the dead – 15:1 – 58.