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THE FIRST EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS - Chapter 1 - Verse 1

 

THE FIRST EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS

 

INTRODUCTION

I.—THE SITUATION OF CORINTH, AND THE CHARACTER OF ITS INHABITANTS

CORINTH was, properly, a small dynasty or territory in Greece, bounded on the east by the gulf of Saron; on the south by the kingdom of Argos; on the west by Sicyon; and on the north by the kingdom of Megaris, and upper part of the isthmus and bay of Corinth, the latter of which is now called the Golfo de Lepanto, or the gulf of Lepanto. This tract, or region, not large in size, possessed a few rich plains, but was in general uneven, and the soil of an indifferent quality. The city of Corinth was the capital of this region. It stood near the middle of the isthmus, which in the narrowest part was about six miles wide, though somewhat wider where Corinth stood. Here was the natural carrying-place, or portage, from the Ionian sea on the west, to the AEgean on the east. Many efforts were made by the Greeks, and afterwards by the Romans, to effect a communication between the AEgean and Adriatic seas by cutting across this isthmus; and traces still remain of these attempts. Means were even contrived for transporting vessels across. This isthmus was also particularly important, as it was the key of the Peloponnesus; and attempts were often made to fortify it. The city had two harbours—Lechseum on the gulf of Corinth, or sea of Crissa on the west, to which it was joined by a double wall, twelve stadia, or about a mile and a half in length; and Cenchrea on the sea of Saron on the east, distant about seventy stadia, or nearly nine miles. It was a situation, therefore, peculiarly favourable for commerce, and highly important in the defence of Greece.

The city is said to have been founded by Sisyphus, long before the siege of Troy, and was then called Ephyra. The time when it was founded is, however, unknown. The name Corinth was supposed to have been given to it from Corin— thus, who, by different authors, is said to have been the son of Jupiter, or of Marathon, or of Pelops, who is said to have rebuilt and adorned the city.

The city of Corinth was built at the foot of a high hill, on the top of which stood a citadel. This hill, which stood on the south of the city, was its defence in that quarter, as its sides were extremely steep. On the three other sides it was protected by strong and lofty ramparts. The circumference of the city proper was about forty stadia, or five miles. Its situation gave it great commercial advantages. As the whole of that region was mountainous and rather barren, and as the situation gave the city extraordinary commercial advantages, the inhabitants early turned their attention to commerce, and amassed great wealth. This fact was, to no inconsiderable extent, the foundation of the luxury, effeminacy, and vices, for which the city afterwards became so much distinguished.

The merchandise of Italy, Sicily, and the western nations, was landed at Lechseum on the west; and that of the islands of the AEgean sea, of Asia Minor, and of the Phoenicians, and other oriental nations, at Cenchrea on the east. The city of Corinth thus became the mart of Asia and Europe, covered the sea with its ships, and formed a navy to protect its commerce. It was distinguished by building galleys and ships of a new and improved form; and its naval force procured it respect from other nations. Its population and its wealth were thus increased by the influx of foreigners. It became a city rather distinguished by its wealth, and naval force, and commerce, than by its military achievements, though it produced a few of the most valiant in the armies of and distinguished leaders in the armies of Greece.

Its population was increased, and its character somewhat formed, from another circumstance. In the neighbourhood of the city the Isthmian games were celebrated, which attracted so much attention, and which drew so many strangers from distant parts of the world. To those games the apostle Paul not infrequently refers, when recommending Christian energy and activity. See Barnes "1 Co 9:24, See Barnes "1 Co 9:26, See Barnes "1 Co 9:27".

Comp. Heb 12:1.

From these causes, the city of Corinth became eminent among all ancient cities for wealth, and luxury, and dissipation. It was the mart of the world. Wealth flowed into it from all quarters. Luxury, amusement, and dissipation, were the natural consequents, until it became the most gay and dissolute city of its times—the Paris of antiquity.

There was another cause which contributed to its character of dissoluteness and corruption. I refer to its religion. The principal deity worshipped in the city was Venus; as Diana was the principal deity worshipped at Ephesus, Minerva at Athens, etc. Ancient cities were devoted usually to some particular god or goddess, and were supposed to be under their peculiar protection. See Barnes "Ac 14:13".

Corinth was devoted, or dedicated, thus to the goddess of love, or licentious passion; and the effect may be easily conceived The temple of Venus was erected on the north side or slope of the Acrocorinthus, a mountain about half a mile in height on the south of the city; and from the summit of which a magnificent prospect opened on the north to Parnassus and Helicon, to the eastward the island of AEgina and the citadel of Athens, and to the west the rich and beautiful plains of Sicyon. This mountain was covered with temples and splendid houses; but was especially devoted to Venus, and was the place of her worship. Her shrine appeared above those of the other gods; and it was enjoined by law, that one thousand beautiful females should officiate as courtesans, or public prostitutes, before the altar of the goddess of love. In a time of public calamity and imminent danger, these women attended at the sacrifices, and walked with the other citizens singing sacred hymns. When Xerxes invaded Greece, recourse was had to their intercession to avert the impending calamity. They were supported chiefly by foreigners; and from the avails of their vice a copious revenue was derived to the city. Individuals, in order to insure success in their undertakings, vowed to present to Venus a certain number of courtesans, which they obtained by sending to distant countries. Foreign merchants were attracted in this way to Corinth; and in a few days would be stripped of all their property. It thus became a proverb, "It is not for every one to go to Corinth" ou pantov androv eiv korinyon estin o plouv. The effect of this on the morals of the city can be easily understood. It became the most gay, dissipated, corrupt, and ultimately the most effeminate and feeble portion of Greece. It is necessary to make these statements because they go to show the exceeding grace of God in collecting a church in such a city; the power of the gospel in overcoming the strongest and most polluted passions of our nature: and because no small part of the irregularities which arose in the church at Corinth, and which gave the apostle occasion to write this epistle, were produced by this prevailing licentiousness of the people; and by the fact, that gross and licentious passions had received the countenance of law and the patronage of public opinion. See chap. v.—vii. See article Lais in the Biographical Dictionaries.

Though Corinth was thus dissipated and licentious in its character, yet it was also distinguished for its refinement and learning. Every part of literature was cultivated there; so that before its destruction by the Romans, Cicero (pro lege Man. cap. v.) scrupled not to call it totius Grantee lumen—the light of all Greece.

Corinth was, of course, exposed to all the changes and disasters which occurred to the other cities of Greece. After a variety of revolutions in its government, which it is not necessary here to repeat, it was taken by the Roman consul, L. Mummius, 147 years before Christ. The riches which were found in the city were immense. During the conflagration, it is said that all the metals which were there were melted and run together, and formed that valuable compound which was so much celebrated as Corinthian brass. Others, however, with more probability, say that the Corinthian artists were accustomed to form a metal, by a mixture of brass with small quantities of gold and silver, which was so brilliant as to cause the extraordinary estimate in which this metal was held. Corinth, however, was again rebuilt, in the time of Julius Caesar, it was colonized by his order, and soon again resumed something of its former magnificence. By the Romans, the whole of Greece was divided into two provinces, Macedonia and Achaia. Of the latter, Corinth was the capital; and this was its condition when it was visited by Paul. With its ancient splendour, it also soon relapsed into its former dissipation and licentiousness; and when Paul visited it, it was perhaps as dissolute as at any former period of its history. The subsequent history of Corinth it is not necessary to trace. On the division of the Roman empire, it fell, of course, to the eastern empire; and when this was overthrown by the Turks, it came into their hands, and it remained under their dominion until the recent revolution in Greece. It still retains its ancient name; but with nothing of its ancient grandeur. A single temple, itself dismantled, it is said, is all that remains, except the ruins, to mark the site of one of the most splendid cities of antiquity. For the authorities of these statements, see Travels of Anacharsis, vol. iii. pp. 369—388; Edin. Ency. art. Corinth; Lempriere's Classical Dictionary; and Bayle's Dictionary, art. Corinth.

II.—THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE CHURCH AT CORINTH

THE apostle Paul first visited Corinth about A.D. 52. (Lardner.) See Ac 18:1. He was then on his way from Macedonia to Jerusalem. He had passed some time at Athens, where he had preached the gospel, but not with such success as to warrant him to remain, or to organize a church. See Barnes "Ac 17:1, and following. He was alone at Athens, having expected to have been joined there by Silas and Timothy; but in that he was disappointed. Ac 17:15; comp. Ac 18:5. He came to Corinth alone, but found Aquila and Priscilla there, who had lately come from Rome, and with them he waited the arrival of Silas and Timothy. When they arrived, Paul entered on the great work of preaching the gospel in that splendid and dissipated city, first to the Jews, and when it was rejected by them, then to the Greeks, Ac 18:5,6. His feelings when he engaged in this work he has himself stated in 1 Co 16:2-5. (See Note on that place.) His embarrassment and discouragements were met by a gracious promise of the Lord that he would be with him, and would not leave him; and that it was his purpose to collect a church there. See Barnes "Ac 18:9,10".

In the city, Paul remained eighteen months, (Ac 18:11,) preaching without molestation, until he was opposed by the Jews under Sosthenes their leader, and brought before Gallio. When Gallio refused to hear the cause, and Paul was discharged, it is said that he remained there yet "a good while," (Ac 18:18,) and then sailed into Syria.

Of the size of the church that was first organized there, and of the general character of the converts, we have no other knowledge than that which is contained in the epistle. There is reason to think that Sosthenes, who was the principal agent of the Jews in arraigning Paul before Gallio, was converted, (see 1 Co 1:1,) and perhaps some other persons of distinction; but it is evident that the church was chiefly composed of those who were in the more humble walks of life. See Barnes "1 Co 1:26"

and following. It was a signal illustration of the grace of God, and the power of the gospel, that a church was organized in that city of gaiety, fashion, luxury, and licentiousness; and it shows that the gospel is adapted to meet and overcome all forms of wickedness, and to subdue all classes of people to itself. If a church was established in the gay and dissolute capital of Achaia, then there is not now a city on earth so gay and so profligate that the same gospel may not meet its corruptions, and subdue it to the cross of Christ. Paul subsequently visited Corinth about A. D. 58, or six years after the establishment of the church there. He passed the winter in Greece—doubtless in Corinth and its neighbourhood—on his journey from Macedonia to Jerusalem, the fifth time in which he visited the latter city. During this stay at Corinth, he wrote the Epistle to the Romans. See the Introduction to the Epistle to the Romans.

III.—THE TIME AND PLACE OF WRITING THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS

IT has been uniformly supposed that this epistle was written at Ephesus. The circumstances which are mentioned incidentally in the epistle itself, place this beyond a doubt. The epistle purports to have been written, not like that to the Romans, without having been at the place to which it was written, but after Paul had been at Corinth. "I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech," etc., 1 Co 2:1. It also purports to have been written when he was about to make another visit to that church. 1 Co 4:19, "But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord will." 1 Co 16:5, "Now I will come unto you when I pass through Macedonia: for I do pass through Macedonia." Now, the history in the Acts of the Apostles informs us that Paul did in fact visit Achaia, and, doubtless, Corinth twice. See Ac 17:1, etc.; Ac 20:1-3. The same history also informs us that it was from Ephesus that Paul went into Greece; and as the epistle purports to have been written a short time before that journey, it follows, to be consistent with the history, that the epistle must have been written while he was at Ephesus. The narrative in the Acts also informs us, that Paul had passed two years in Ephesus before he set out on his second journey into Greece.

With this supposition, all the circumstances relating to the place where the apostle then was which are mentioned in this epistle agree. "If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not?" 1 Co 15:32. It is true, as Dr. Paley remarks, (Horae Paulinae,) that the apostle might say this wherever he was; but it was much more natural, and much more to the purpose to say it, if he was at Ephesus at the time, and in the midst of those conflicts to which the expression relates. "The churches of Asia salute you," 1 Co 16:19. It is evident from this, that Paul was near those churches, and that he had intercourse with them. But Asia, throughout the Acts of the Apostles, and in the epistles of Paul, does not mean commonly the whole of Asia, nor the whole of Asia Minor, but a district in the interior of Asia Minor, of which Ephesus was the capital. See Barnes "Ac 2:9"; also Ac 6:9; 16:6; 20:16.

"Aquila and Priscilla salute you," 1 Co 16:19. Aquila and Priscilla were at Ephesus during the time in which I shall endeavour to show this epistle was written, Ac 18:26. It is evident, if this were so, that the epistle was written at Ephesus. "But I will tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost," 1 Co 16:8. This is almost an express declaration that he was at Ephesus when the epistle was written. "A great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries," 1 Co 16:9. How well this agrees with the history may be seen by comparing it with the account in Acts, when Paul was at Ephesus. Ac 19:20, "So mightily grew the word of God, and prevailed." That there were "many adversaries," may be seen from the account of the same period in Ac 19:9: "But when divers were hardened, and believed not, but spake evil of that way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples." Comp. Ac 19:23-41. From these circumstances, it is put beyond controversy that the epistle was written

from Ephesus. These circumstantial and undesigned coincidences, between a letter written by Paul and an independent history by Luke, is one of those strong evidences so common in genuine writings, which go to show that neither is a forgery. An impostor in forging a history like that of the Acts and then writing an epistle, would not have thought of these coincidences, or introduced them in the manner in which they occur here.

It is perfectly manifest that the notes of the time, and place, and circumstances in the history, and in the epistle, were not introduced to correspond with each other, but have every appearance of genuineness and truth. See Paley's Horae Paulinae, on this epistle.

The circumstances which have been referred to in regard to the place where this epistle was written, serve also to fix the date of its composition. It is evident, from 1 Co 16:8, that Paul purposed to tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost. But this must have been written and sent away before the riot which was raised by Demetrius, (Ac 19:23-41;) for, immediately after that, Paul left Ephesus and went to Macedonia, Ac 20:1,2. The reason why Paul purposed to remain in Ephesus until Pentecost, was the success which he had met with in preaching the gospel, Ac 16:9. But after the riot excited by Demetrius, this hope was in a measure defeated, and he soon left the city. These circumstances serve to fix the time when this epistle was written to the interval which elapsed between what is recorded in Ac 19:22,23. This occurred about A.D. 56 or 57. Pearson and Mill place the date in the year 57; Lardner, in the spring of the year 56.

It has never been doubted that Paul was the author of this epistle. It bears his name; has internal evidence of having been written by him; and is ascribed to him by the unanimous voice of antiquity. It has been made a question, however, whether this was the first letter which Paul wrote to them; or whether he had previously written an epistle to them which is now lost. This inquiry has been caused by what Paul says in 1 Co 5:9, "I wrote unto you in an epistle," etc. Whether he there refers to another epistle, which he wrote to them before this, and which they had disregarded; or whether to the previous chapters of this epistle; or whether to a letter to some other church which they had been expected to read, has been made a question. This question will be considered in the note on that verse.

IV.—THE OCCASION ON WHICH THIS EPISTLE WAS WRITTEN,

IT is evident that this epistle was written in reply to one which had been addressed by the church at Corinth to Paul: 1 Co 7:1, "Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me," etc. That letter had been sent to Paul while at Ephesus by the hands of Stephanas, and Fortunatus, and Achaicus, who had come to consult with him respecting the state of the church at Corinth, 1 Co 16:17,18. In addition to this, Paul had heard various reports of certain disorders which had been

introduced into the church at Corinth, and which required his attention and correction. Those disorders, it seems, as was natural, had not been mentioned in the letter which they sent to him, but he had heard of them incidentally by some members of the family of Chloe, 1 Co 1:11. They pertained to the following subjects:

(1.) The divisions which had arisen in the church by the popularity of a teacher who had excited great disturbance, 1 Co 1:12,13. Probably this teacher was a Jew by birth, and not improbably of the sect of the Sadducees, (2 Co 11:22;) and his teaching might have been the occasion why in the epistle Paul entered so largely into the proof of the doctrine of the resurrection from the dead, 1 Co 15.

(2.) The Corinthians, like all other Greeks, were greatly in danger of being deluded, and carried away by a subtle philosophy, and by a dazzling eloquence; and it is not improbable that the false teacher there had taken advantage of this, and made it the occasion of exciting parties, and of creating a prejudice against Paul, and of undervaluing his authority because he had made no pretensions to these endowments. It was of importance, therefore, for Paul to show the true nature and value

of their philosophy, and the spirit which should prevail in receiving the gospel, 1 Co 1:18-31; 1 Co 2-3;

(3.) Paul's authority had been called in question as an apostle, and not improbably by the false teacher, or teachers, that had caused the parties

which had been originated there. It became necessary, therefore, for him

to vindicate his authority, and show by what right he had acted in organizing the church, and in the directions which he had given for its discipline and purity, 1 Co 4, 1 Co 9.

(4.) A case of incest had occurred in the church, which had not been made the subject of discipline, 1 Co 5. This case was a flagrant violation of the gospel; and yet it is not improbable that it had been palliated, or vindicated, by the false teachers; and it is certain that it excited no shame in the church itself. Such cases were not regarded by the dissolute Corinthians as criminal. In a city dedicated to Venus, the crimes of licentiousness had been openly indulged, and this was one of the sins to which they were particularly exposed. It became necessary, therefore, for Paul to exert his apostolic authority, and to remove the offender in this case from the communion of the church, and to make him an example of the severity of Christian discipline.

(5.) The Corinthians had evinced a litigious spirit, a fondness for going

to law, and for bringing their causes before heathen tribunals, to the great scandal of religion, instead of endeavouring to settle their difficulties among themselves. Of this the apostle had been informed, and this called also for his authoritative interposition, 1 Co 6:1-8.

(6.) Erroneous views and practices had arisen, perhaps under the influence of the false teachers, on the subject of temperance, chastity,

etc. To the vices of intemperance, licentiousness, and gluttony, the Corinthian Christians, from their former habits, and from the customs of their countrymen, were particularly exposed. Those vices had been judged harmless, and had been freely indulged in; and it is not improbable that the views of the apostle had been ridiculed as unnecessarily stern, and severe, and rigid. It became necessary, therefore, to correct their views, and to state the true nature of the Christian requirements, 1 Co 6:8-19.

(7.) The apostle having thus discussed those things of which he had incidentally heard, proceeds to notice particularly the things respecting which they had consulted him by letter. Those were,

(a.) Marriage, and the duties in regard to it in their circumstances,

(b.) The eating of things offered to idols, 1 Co 8. In order to enforce his views of what he had said on the duty of abstaining from the

use of certain food, if it was the occasion of giving offence, he shows them, (1 Co 9,) that it was the great principle on which he had

acted in his ministry; that he was not imposing on them anything which he did not observe himself; that though he had full authority as an apostle to insist on a support in preaching, yet, for the sake of peace and the prosperity of the church, he had voluntarily relinquished his rights, and endeavoured by all means to save some, 1 Co 9. By this example, he seeks to persuade them to a course of life as far as possible from a life of gluttony, and fornication, and self-indulgence; and to assure them that although they had been highly favoured, as the Jews had been also, yet like them they might also fall, 1 Co 10:1-12. These principles he illustrates by a reference to their

joining in feasts and celebrations with idols, and the dangers to which they would subject themselves by so doing; and concludes that it would be proper in those circumstances wholly to abstain from partaking of the meat offered in sacrifice to idols, if it were known to be such. This was to be done on the principle that no offence was to be given. And thus the second question referred to him was disposed of, 1 Co 10:13-13-33.

In connexion with this, and as an illustration of

the principle on which he acted, and on which he wishes them to act, that of promoting mutual edification, and avoiding offence, he refers (1 Co 11) to two other subjects: the one, the proper relation of the woman to the man, and the general duty of her being in subjection to him, 1 Co 11:1-16; and the other, a far more important matter, the proper

mode of celebrating the Lord's Supper, (1 Co 11:17-34.) He had been led to speak of this, probably, by the discussion to which he had been invited on the subject of their feasts; and the discussion of that subject naturally led to the consideration of the much more important subject of their mode of celebrating the Lord's Supper. That had been greatly abused to purposes of riot and disorder, an abuse which had grown directly out of their former views and habits in public festivals. Those views and habits they had transferred to the celebration of the Eucharist. It became necessary, therefore, for the apostle to correct those views, to state the true design of the ordinance, to show the consequences of an improper mode of celebration, and to endeavour to reform them in their mode of observing it, 1 Co 11:17-34.

(c.) Another subject which had probably been submitted to him in the letter, was the nature of spiritual gifts; the design of the power of speaking with tongues, and the proper order to be observed in the church

on this subject. These powers seem to have been imparted to the Corinthians in a remarkable degree; and like most other things had been abused to the promotion of strife and ambition—to pride in their possession, and to irregularity and disorder in their public assemblies. This whole subject the apostle discusses, (chap. xii., xiii., xiv.) He states the design of imparting this gift; the use which should be made

of it in the church, the necessity of due subordination in all the members and officers; and, in a chapter unequalled in beauty in any language, 1 Co 13 shows the inferiority of the highest of these endowments to a kind catholic spirit—to the prevalence of charity—and thus endeavours to allay all contentions and strifes for ascendency, by the prevalence of the spirit of LOVE. In connexion with this 1 Co 14 he reproves the abuses which had arisen on this subject, as he had done on others, and seeks to repress all disorders.

(8.) A very important subject the apostle reserved to the close of the epistle—the resurrection of the dead, 1 Co 15. Why he chose to discuss it in this place, is not known. It is quite probable that he had not been consulted on this subject in the letter which had been sent to him. It is evident, however, that erroneous opinions had been entertained on the subject, and probably inculcated by the religious teachers at Corinth. The philosophic minds of the Greeks we know were much disposed to deride this doctrine, (Ac 17:32;) and in the Corinthian church it had been either called in question, or greatly perverted, 1 Co 15:12. That the same body would be raised up had been denied; and the doctrine that came to be believed was, probably, simply that there would be a future state, and that the only resurrection was the resurrection of the soul from sin, and that this was past. Compare 2 Ti 2:18. This subject the apostle had not before taken up, probably because he had not been consulted on it, and because it would find a more appropriate place after he had reproved their disorders, and answered their questions. After all those discussions, after examining all the opinions and practices that prevailed among them, it was proper to place the great argument for the truth of the religion which they all professed on a permanent foundation, and to close the epistle by reminding them, and proving to them, that the religion which they professed, and which they had so much abused, was from heaven. The proof of this was the resurrection of the Saviour from the dead. It was indispensable to hold that in its obvious sense; and holding that, the truth of their own resurrection was demonstrated, and the error of those who denied it was apparent.

(9.) Having finished this demonstration, the apostle closes the epistle 1 Co 16 with some miscellaneous directions and salutations..

..................................................................... Remainder of Introductory Notes and Information on Verse 1 located in See Barnes "1 Co 1:2"

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