Paul, the Apostle of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, was in Ephesus right around the year 55 AD when he began to receive news that the church in Corinth was in trouble. These two cities really weren’t all that far apart, being on opposite sides of the Aegean Sea, and both being major port cities. Travel between the two was relatively easy in those days, and it would be no surprise that people from Corinth might make the trip to report their difficulties to Paul, and that Paul might dispatch associates to go over to Corinth check things out. Upon confirming that there were indeed serious issues, he wrote his letter in an attempt to take corrective action.
Corinth had once been a proud Greek city, but in 146 BC it had been conquered and destroyed by the up and coming legions of Rome, and for the next 100 years it remained desolate and sparsely populated. All of that changed in 44 BC when Julius Caesar, shortly before his death, re-established Corinth as a Roman Colony. We know from history that the Romans established colonies for the purpose of projecting their power into the far regions of their Empire, but military force was not the only power they projected. These Roman Colonies also projected Roman culture, religion, economics and trade throughout the Empire, and provided places for their soldiers to retire. One historian of the period wrote that Roman Colonies were miniatures of Rome itself.
Corinth however, was a special case, for it had been a strategically important port city when it was established originally by the Greeks, and it quickly returned to that status under Rome. As a result of it’s location, it was populated not only by Roman colonists, but also by Greeks, Jews, Syrians, Egyptians; peoples from all around the known world. Since ships could not yet navigate in open seas, they were forced to follow the coastlines around the Mediterranean Sea, and thus every ship that sailed from Rome to a destination beyond Greece had to call in Corinth− Corinth became an economic powerhouse.
As has been the case in major seaports throughout the ages, Corinth had a dark side; the streets late at night might be populated by sailors far from home looking for good times of drinking and female companionship, sexual practices of whatever sort were… shall we say… easy and free-flowing, as was drink and violence.
It would seem from Paul’s letter, that some of these factors may have crept into the church.
Scholars often disagree about Paul’s intentions in writing to the church there, and certainly he could have been a bit more explicit in setting out the exact problems he was writing to address. Yet we must remind ourselves that he was writing to people who were there on the scene and who knew exactly what he was talking about without any special introduction. While this might make our task slightly more difficult, Paul wrote the letter in a highly structured literary style that makes his purpose clear to anyone who cares to notice it. Looking carefully at the structure of his writing, we clearly find that he addressed eight major issues facing the Corinthian church:
- Disunity and fragmentation of the church community (1:10-4:20).
- Sexual immorality (5:1-6:20).
- Sexuality, celibacy and marriage (7:1-40).
- Foods offered to idols (8:1-11:1).
- Problems in Worship (11:2-34).
- Misunderstandings about spiritual gifts (12:1-14:40).
- Misunderstandings about resurrection (15:1-58).
- Misunderstandings about giving (16:1-11).
Of course, his letter is written in the typical format, including his greeting and prayer at the beginning, and few personal comments at the closing. We will dive into the next time; see you then!