Background to I Corinthians

Class Discussion

  1. Who did you find mentioned in the book?
    1. Are any the same person but mentioned with a different name?
    2. What are the various names for God and the members of the Godhead?
  2. What locations did you find mentioned in the book?
    1. Using a map, locate the places on the map.
  3. What events are mentioned which can help date the book? (The key is to look for words such as “then,” “after this,” “until,” “before,” “when,” etc.)

Facts About Corinth

Corinth was a city situated on the narrow band of land between Achaia and Greece. It was one of the larger cities in the Roman Empire, having a population of about 400,000, making it the fourth-largest city in the empire. The peninsula that Corinth is located on is about the size of the state of New Hampshire.

Because of the narrow strip of land where Corinth sat, boats were dragged about three miles on sleds across the rocky roadway to the other side, saving many days of travel. It also avoided the strong winter winds that often made travel hazardous. Today a canal serves the same purpose. It is because of this portage service that Corinth was so wealthy. Corinth was also the governmental seat for the province of Achaia.

Being a seaport, it was known for its immoral lifestyle to service the sailors coming to its town. One of the Greek verbs for fornicate is a derivation of the name Corinth. The city contained a temple to Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. Strabo, a Greek writer, claimed that the temple had a thousand prostitutes working for it. Gambling, thieves, and vagrants were common; thus giving Corinth the nickname of “sin city.”

Dating the I Corinthian Letter

The church in Corinth was started by Paul during his second journey. After being in Macedonia, he had stopped in Athens for a period of time before continuing on to Corinth (Acts 18:1). It was in Corinth that he first met Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:2-3). They worked together to teach the gospel to the Jews(Acts 18:4). A bit later Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, where he had left them (Acts 17:14-15; 18:5). It was at this time that a falling out with the Jews occurred and Paul began focusing his teachings on the Gentiles (Acts 18:6). Paul also moved out of Aquila and Priscilla’s home and into the house of a man named Justus, who lived next door to the synagogue (Acts 18:7). It is not that Paul had completely given up on the Jews. Eventually, he persuaded Crispus, the ruler of the local synagogue, his household, and many other Corinthians to become Christians (Acts 18:8). Encouraged by the Lord in a vision, Paul continued to teach in Corinth for eighteen months (Acts 18:9-11).

At some point, the Jews tried to take Paul to court, but the proconsul of Achaia, Gallio, threw the case out (Acts 18:12-16). This attempt to use the courts for their religious persecution angered the Gentiles and they turned on the new ruler of the synagogue, Sosthenes, who had replaced Crispus (Acts 18:17). Gallio did nothing to stop the Greeks from attacking Sosthenes.

From there Paul traveled with Aquila and Priscilla to Syria, then to Cenchrea, and eventually stopped in Ephesus. The people asked him to stay, but Paul was eager to get to Jerusalem, so he left promising to return later if the Lord allowed him to do so (Acts 18:18-21). Aquila and Priscilla, however, remained in Ephesus where they ran into an Alexandrian Jew named Apollos. Apollos was a follower of John, but after Aquila and Priscilla studied with him, he became a follower of Christ (Acts 18:24-26). Apollos was eager to preach in Achaia and went to Corinth to teach (Acts 18:27-28).

Paul returned to Ephesus (Acts 19:1) and spent over two years teaching there (Acts 19:8,10). It is believed that toward the end of this time was when Paul wrote the letter to the Corinthians, possibly in the spring of A.D. 55 or 57. He mentioned wanting to spend the winter in Corinth (I Corinthians 16:5-8) and he did do so (Acts 20:2-3). Based on Paul’s letter to Corinth it appears that Apollos had returned to Ephesus and was planning another trip to Corinth soon (I Corinthians 16:12).

Background to the Letter

The occasion for the letter came about because of the news Paul was receiving about the conditions of the church in Corinth. Chloe’s household told Paul about the squabbles in the church (I Corinthians 1:11). Timothy was sent to remind them how they ought to behave (I Corinthians 4:17) and had since left, Paul planning on sending him there again (I Corinthians 16:10). Apollos had returned and now Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus had come (I Corinthians 16:17). It is likely by these latter men that the questions came from Corinth that Paul addressed in his letter.

The gloomy reports from those from Corinth caused Paul to wonder if he needed to come and scold the Corinthians severely (I Corinthians 4:21). The letter was to deal with the major issues until he had a chance to visit them.

Class Discussion

  1. What is the tone of the First Corinthian letter like?
  2. What words did you find used frequently in I Corinthians? Which words are key to its contents?
    1. We already listed the people (who), locations (where), and time (when). Now we want words that address the questions “what,” “why,” and “how.”
    2. Combine any suggested words which are synonyms, such as tongues and language or earthly, fleshly, and worldly.
    3. Note certain categories of words, such as words dealing with food and drink or words dealing with marriage.
  3. Get a printed copy of the text of I Corinthians that is double spaced. This will be used for future assignments for marking the text. Students are also welcomed to mark their Bibles directly, though they might not have much room. (There are Journaling Bible being published, one for each book of the Bible, which are helpful.)
  4. Think about icons that can be used for people, time markers, locations, and some keywords. The actual icons are an individual choice. There is no right or wrong answer. However, the icons used must be consistent, so make a key showing what each icon represents.
    1. Since God and the members of the Godhead are frequently referenced, make four symbols: One for God in general; God, the Father; God, the Son, and God, the Holy Spirit.

Initial Mark-Up (Chapters 1 to 6)

  1. Create a set of symbols or icons to represent people, locations, time, and each keyword or set of related words. This list will then become your key for marking up the text. The icons should be small and simple to draw. Use different colors to make the icons distinct.
  2. Go through chapters 1 to 6 and mark up the text.
    1. Mark each person named as a person and underline the name. Use a different color for each person.
    2. Mark each location named and underline the name. Use a different color for each place.
    3. Mark each time reference.
    4. Mark each keyword.
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