First Epistle to the Corinthians  

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The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, usually referred to simply as First Corinthians and often written 1 Corinthians, is the seventh book of the New Testament. The book, originally written in Greek, was a letter from Paul of Tarsus and Sosthenes to the Christians of Corinth, Greece.

This epistle contains some of the best-known phrases in the New Testament, including (depending on the translation) "all things to all men" (9:22), "without love, I am nothing" (13:2), "through a glass, darkly" (13:12), and "when I was a child, I spoke as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child" (13:11).

Contents

Composition

There is scholarly consensus that Paul is the actual author. (See Authorship of the Pauline Epistles) The letter is quoted or mentioned by the earliest of sources, and is included in every ancient canon, including that of Marcion.

The epistle was written from Ephesus (16:8), a city on the west coast of today's Turkey, about 180 miles by sea from Corinth. According to Acts of the Apostles, Paul founded the church in Corinth (Acts 18:1-17), then spent approximately three years in Ephesus (Acts 19:8, 19:10, 20:31). The letter was written during this time in Ephesus, which is usually dated as being in the range of 53 to 57 AD.

The traditional subscription to the epistle, translated in the Authorized Version, states that this epistle was written at Philippi, perhaps arising from a misinterpretation of 16:5, "For I do pass through Macedonia," as meaning, "I am passing through Macedonia." In 16:8 Paul declares his intention of staying in Ephesus until Pentecost. This statement, in turn, is clearly reminiscent of Paul's Second Missionary Journey, when Paul travelled from Corinth to Ephesus, before going to Jerusalem for Pentecost (cf. Acts 18:22). Thus, it is possible that I Corinthians was written during Paul's first (brief) stay in Ephesus, at the end of his Second Journey, usually dated to early 54 AD. However, it is more likely that it was written during his extended stay in Ephesus, where he refers to sending Timothy to them (Acts 19:22, I Cor. 4:17). Also, his references to Apollos (1:12, 3:4, etc.) show that Apollos was known to Paul and the church at the time of writing, which would preclude the first recorded visit to Ephesus (See Acts 18:24-28).

Outline

The epistle may be divided into six parts:

  1. Salutation (1:1-3)
    1. Paul addresses the issue regarding challenges to his apostleship and defends the issue by claiming that it was given to him through a revelation from Christ. The salutation (the first section of the letter) reinforces the legitimacy of Paul's apostolic claim.
  2. Thanksgiving (1:4-9)
    1. The thanksgiving part of the letter is typical of Hellenistic letter writing. In a thanksgiving recitation the writer thanks God for health, a safe journey, deliverance from danger, or good fortune.
    2. In this letter, the thanksgiving “introduces charismata and gnosis, topics to which Paul will return and that he will discuss at greater length later in the letter” (Roetzel, 1999).
  3. Division in Corinth (1:10–4:21)
    1. Facts of division
    2. Causes of division
    3. Cure for division
  4. Immorality in Corinth (5:1–6:20)
    1. Discipline an Immoral Brother
    2. Resolving personal disputes
    3. Sexual purity
  5. Difficulties in Corinth (7:1–14:40)
    1. Marriage
    2. Christian liberty
    3. Worship
  6. Doctrine of Resurrection (15:1-58)
  7. Closing (16:1-24)
    1. Paul’s closing remarks in his letters usually contain his intentions and efforts to improve the community. He would first conclude with his paraenesis and wish them peace by including a prayer request, greet them with his name and his friends with a holy kiss, and offer final grace and benediction:
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Content

Corinth was the meeting point of many nationalities because the main current of the trade between Asia and western Europe passed through its harbors. Paul's first visit lasted nearly two years and his converts were mainly Greeks. Some time before 1 Cor. 2 was written he paid them a second visit (2 Cor. 12: 14; 2 Cor. 13: 1) to check some rising disorder (2 Cor. 2: 1; 2 Cor. 13: 2), and wrote them a letter, now lost (1 Cor. 5: 9). They had also been visited by Apollos (Acts 18: 27), perhaps by Peter (1 Cor. 1: 12), and by some Jewish Christians who brought with them letters of commendation from Jerusalem (1 Cor. 1: 12; 2 Cor. 3: 1; 2 Cor. 5: 16; 2 Cor. 11: 23).

Paul wrote this letter to correct what he saw as erroneous views in the Corinthian church. Several sources informed Paul of conflicts within the church at Corinth: Apollos (Acts 19:1), a letter from the Corinthians, the "household of Chloe," and finally Stephanas and his two friends who had visited Paul (1:11; 16:17). Paul then wrote this letter to the Corinthians, urging uniformity of belief ("that ye all speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among you," 1:10) and expounding Christian doctrine. Titus and a brother whose name is not given were probably the bearers of the letter to the church at Corinth (2 Corinthians 2:13; 8:6, 16–18).

In general, divisions within the church at Corinth seem to be a problem, and Paul makes it a point to mention these conflicts in the beginning. Specifically, pagan roots still hold sway within their community. Paul wants to bring them back to what he sees as correct doctrine, stating that God has given him the opportunity to be a “skilled master builder” to lay the foundation and let others build upon it (1 Cor 3:10).

Later, he discusses immorality in Corinth by discussing an immoral brother, how to resolve personal disputes, and sexual purity. Regarding marriage, Paul states that it is better for Christians to remain unmarried, but that it is better to marry than sin. The Epistle may include marriage as an apostolic practice in 1 Corinthians 9:5, "Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas (Peter)?" However, the Greek word for 'wife' is the same word for 'woman.' The Early Church Fathers including Tertullian, Jerome, and Augustine state the Greek word is ambiguous and the women in 1 Corinthians 9:5 were women ministering to the Apostles as women ministered to Christ (cf Matthew 27:55, Luke 8:1-3), and were not wives, and assert they left their 'offices of marriage' to follow Christ and to preach.

Paul also argues unmarried people must please God, just like married people must please their spouses. The letter is also notable for mentioning the role of women in churches, that for instance they must remain silent (1 Cor. 11:2-16, 14:34-35), and the role of prophecy and speaking tongues in churches. After discussing his views on worshipping idols, Paul finally ends with his views on resurrection. He states that Christ died for our sins, and was buried, and rose on the third day according to the scriptures (1 Cor. 15:3). Paul then asks: “Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” (1 Cor. 15:12) and addresses the question of resurrection based on his interpretation of scripture.

Throughout the letter, Paul presents issues that are troubling the community in Corinth and offers ways to fix them. Paul states that this letter is not meant to make them feel ashamed but to “admonish” them as beloved children. They are expected to become imitators of Jesus and follow the ways in Christ as he, Paul, teaches in all his churches (1 Cor. 4:14-16).

According to a writer cited by the author of the Easton's Bible Dictionary, this epistle

"shows the powerful self-control of the apostle in spite of his physical weakness, his distressed circumstances, his incessant troubles, and his emotional nature. It was written, he tells us, in bitter anguish, 'out of much affliction and pressure of heart . . . and with streaming eyes' (2 Cor 2:4); yet he restrained the expression of his feelings, and wrote with a dignity and holy calm which he thought most calculated to win back his erring children. It gives a vivid picture of the early church... It entirely dissipates the dream that the apostolic church was in an exceptional condition of holiness of life or purity of doctrine."

The author of the Easton's article concludes, "Many Christians today still find this letter to speak to modern-day problems within church communities."

See also




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