Introduction to the Bible - 46 - 1 Corinthians

Introduction to 1 Corinthians

by Shad Sluiter

For more information about the church, read the online book Gathering Unto His Name, by Norman Crawford.

Paul’s First Letter to the Church in Corinth
First Corinthians (1 Corinthians) is the name of the letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to a church that lived in the city of Corinth. 

The City of Corinth

Corinth was the capital of the Roman province of Achaia which is now part of modern-day Greece.  It was one of the most prominent and richest cities in the Roman Empire with a population estimated at more than 500,000.  It was a morally corrupt city known for drunkenness, prostitution and idol worship.  Corinth was the home of the Temple of Aphrodite which itself had over 1,000 Temple prostitutes who served the temple worshipers.

The Gospel in Corinth

Perhaps when Paul left Athens, he was dragging his feet in discouragement for being mocked and for seeing little results in his gospel preaching (Acts 17:17,23,30-34). However Corinth, located about 50 miles to the west, was a far more successful venture. He stayed in Corinth a year and a half (18:11). During that time, he supported himself through his profession of tent making, working with Aquila and Priscilla. They were a Jewish couple who had fled Rome because of Emperor Claudius' edict forcing all Jews to leave (18:1-3). A church had been established in their home (1 Corinthians 16:19).
On his third missionary journey, Paul returned to Ephesus (I Corinthians 16:8), where he received disturbing reports concerning problems in the Corinthian church (1:11; 5:1; 7:1; 11:18). The church in Corinth was building a very poor reputation.  Paul heard about their un-Christian attitudes in regards to divisions, fornication and lawsuits among themselves.

The Contents of the Letter

Part one – Reproof for reports of bad behavior.  (Chapter 1-6)

Problem #1 – Divisions (Chapter 1-4)

The church had divided itself into four competing camps: Paul, Apollos, Peter and Christ.  Paul’s first purpose of writing was to correct their thinking.  There was a group in the church who may have called themselves something like “the disciples of Paul”.  Others followed the wisdom and teaching of Apollos, a teacher who visited the church in Corinth.  Yet another group followed the apostle Peter.  The “Paul” party doubtless was quick to emphasize the spiritual freedom that comes from redemption through faith in Christ since Paul was the master teacher of the gospel as contained the book of Romans and Galatians.  Perhaps they were guilty of offending others with their “liberty”.  Apollos was a gifted speaker whose followers could have been enamored by his eloquent speech but lacked precise understanding of the scriptures.  We know from Acts 18 that Apollos was strong in presentation, but lacked some depth of understanding of the basic teachings of the Bible.  (See Acts 18:25-26).  The third division of the church followed Peter.  Perhaps these people were Jewish believers who wanted to emphasize the importance of meanings of ceremonies and practices of the Law of Moses.  Peter was guilty of applying Old Testament law to believers in the New Testament (Galatians 2:11).  Finally, a fourth group claimed superiority of all the others by saying “I am of Christ”.  Though they may have technically been correct in choosing the correct leader to follow, they were obviously guilty of doing so with great pride and arrogance.

Paul wrote to correct the Corinthians church error of divisions by showing how different their attitudes were from the true reality of the mind of God.
• In chapters 1 and 2, Paul reminds the believers in Corinth that human wisdom is foolishness compared to the wisdom of the message of the cross.
• In chapter 3, Paul reminds them that human effort will come to nothing in the final analysis.  Only what is done for Christ will have any lasting value.
• In chapter 4, Paul writes about the “glorious” work of being a leader in the church.  He suffered hunger and rejection for being an apostle.  Far from wanting to gather a following, the true Christian leader is humble, hardworking and a model of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Problem #2 – Fornication (Chapter 5)

The reputation of the believers in Corinth reaches its low point where Paul has to say
“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father's wife.  And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:1-2)
Obviously, their understanding of sexual and moral purity was so wrong that Paul has to write a specific list of sins that should not be tolerated by a church.  These sins include: sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler.  These types of sins are to be dealt with by refusing to associate with any believer who practices these sins even to the point of refusing to eat with them.

Problem #3 – Lawsuits (Chapter 6)

The church was ruining its reputation in the community by taking each other to court.  The stinging rebuke is

“Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers” (1 Corinthians 6:5)

Finally, Paul summarized their problems of gross, open immorality by pleading with the fact that they had been redeemed from such habits.
“You are not your own, for you were bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

Part two – Responses to questions that were asked by the Corinthians.

Starting with chapter 7, Paul says “Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote me…”  From this point on, Paul is answering questions that were contained in a letter.
1. Should a believer divorce his/her unbelieving husband/wife? (1 Corinthians 7:1-24))
2. Should a single person get married or is it better to remain single? (1 Corinthians 7:25-40)
3. Can a believer eat meat that was used in pagan religious ceremonies?   (1 Corinthians 8)
4. Paul, are you really have the authority to be a true apostle?  (1 Corinthians 9-10)
5. Do women and men have separate roles in the church? (1 Corinthians 11:1-16)
6. What kind of behavior should be expected at the church meeting where the Lord’s Supper is practiced (1 Corinthians 11:17-34)
7. Do all people have spiritual gifts? (1 Corinthians 12)
8. What value do spiritual gifts have? (1 Corinthians 13)
9. How should speaking in tongues be done in the church? (1 Corinthians 14)
10. What will happen to Christians at the resurrection? (1 Corinthians 15)
11. How should a church collect money? (1 Corinthians 16:1-4)


In spite of all the problems in Corinth, God still called them “them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints” (1 Corinthians 1:1).  God used their mistakes to enable Paul to explain how to correctly operate an assembly of Christians giving us the letter that has been called “The Charter of the Church”.