Background

Corinth was a thriving port city in Greece known for its Greek learning but also known for its immorality.  Paul came to the city on his second missionary journey and met a Jewish couple, Aquila and Priscilla, who had been expelled from Rome by the emperor Claudius (Acts 18:2).  Paul worked with the couple as tentmakers while he attempted to teach about Jesus each week in the synagogue (Acts 18:3-4).  After being rejected by the Jews, Paul would stay on in Corinth and teach in the household of Justus for over a year and a half (Acts 18:7; 11).

When Paul eventually left for Ephesus, he took along with him Aquila and Priscilla who stayed in Ephesus as teachers.  The couple met a learned man from Alexandria named Apollos, who knew the Scriptures well and taught about Jesus, though apparently he did not have a deep knowledge of the faith.  They taught him about the faith more adequately and later sent him on to Achaia, where he settled and taught in Corinth (Acts 18:24-28).

From the letter itself we can see that the congregation in Corinth was made up of some Jews but mostly Gentiles, who seem to have been rather low on the social hierarchy in the Greek world (1 Cor 1:26).  However, while Paul spends much of the letter addressing issues in the congregation, he praises them for their faith and makes clear that they are highly gifted from God (1 Cor 1:5-7).

Letters and Visits

This letter we call “1 Corinthians” is actually not the first letter Paul wrote to the Corinthians.  For more information on the letters and visits of Paul to the Corinthian church, please see the introductory information for 2 Corinthians.

Authorship

The apostle Paul was a former persecutor of early Christians, but after Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus he became a believer and an apostle of the church (Acts 9:1-22).  Paul was called to be an apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15; 22:21; 26:17-18; Rom 1:5; 11:13; 15:16; 16:26), and conducted the greatest missionary journeys in the early church, planting and strengthening churches all over Asia Minor and into Europe.  Along his journeys and during his later imprisonments, Paul wrote various letters to congregations and to individuals that were eventually circulated and read among all churches.  A number of these letters, also called epistles, comprise a large portion of the New Testament in the Bible.

Place and Date of Writing

Paul later took a third missionary trip and headed straight for Ephesus, where he stayed for up to three years.  It is from there that Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthian congregation.  Since this journey is often estimated to have taken place between 53 and 57 AD, the letter has commonly been dated to approximately the spring of 57 AD.

See also the Chronology of New Testament Books.

Purpose and Content

While Paul was in Ephesus on his third journey he received a distressing report from some members of the church in Corinth (1 Cor 1:11; 16:17) about divisions and other problems within the church, including condoning sexual immorality (1 Cor 5:1-13; 6:12-20), lawsuits among fellow members (1 Cor 6:1-11), abuse of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 10:14-22; 17-34), and a misunderstanding about the resurrection (1 Cor 15:12-14).  These members also seem to have requested Paul’s guidance on a number of matters on behalf of the congregation (1 Cor 7:1; 8:1; 11:2; 12:1).  Thus, Paul writes this letter we call 1 Corinthians to address the many issues arising in the Corinthian church, to remind them of the powerful gospel message (1 Cor 1:18; 15:1-2), and to strengthen and encourage them in their faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Cor 15:3-8; 55-57).

Notable Passages

  • 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5
  • 1 Corinthians 2:10-15
  • 1 Corinthians 3:16-17
  • 1 Corinthians 5:6-8
  • 1 Corinthians 6:9-20
  • 1 Corinthians 7:2-5,8-9
  • 1 Corinthians 9:19-23
  • 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
  • 1 Corinthians 10:12-13
  • 1 Corinthians 10:16-17
  • 1 Corinthians 10:31
  • 1 Corinthians 11:23-29
  • 1 Corinthians 12:3-11,27-31
  • 1 Corinthians 13:1-8,13
  • 1 Corinthians 14:19
  • 1 Corinthians 14:40
  • 1 Corinthians 15:1-58
  • 1 Corinthians 16:13-14

Outline

  1. Greeting and preface (1 Corinthians 1:1-9)
  2. Concerning the ministry of apostles and other preachers (1 Corinthians 1:10-4:21)
  3. Concerning church discipline (1 Corinthians 5)
  4. Concerning lawsuits (1 Corinthians 6:1-11)
  5. Concerning sexual immorality and marriage (1 Corinthians 6:12-7:40)
  6. Concerning Christian freedom (1 Corinthians 8-11)
  7. Concerning spiritual gifts and Christian love (1 Corinthians 12-14)
  8. Concerning the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15)
  9. Personal information, greetings, conclusion (1 Corinthians 16)1Adapted from: Schaller, John, Loren A. Schaller, and Gary P. Baumler. The Book of Books: A Brief Introduction to the Bible. The People’s Bible. Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Pub. House, 1990. 247.

Notes

References   [ + ]

1. Adapted from: Schaller, John, Loren A. Schaller, and Gary P. Baumler. The Book of Books: A Brief Introduction to the Bible. The People’s Bible. Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Pub. House, 1990. 247.