As we ready ourselves for "Messy Church," a 12-week series in 1 Corinthians, it might be helpful to get an introductory background of the church in Corinth as well as Paul's hope for this letter.
In 146 B.C., the Roman army marched through the city of Corinth and leveled it. The residents, mostly Greek, were executed or sold into slavery somewhere in the growing Roman empire. The Roman government ordered that nobody rebuild the city. That was 'old Corinth,' a community with a notorious reputation. The temple of Aphrodite was there. Archeologists have discovered statutes of genitalia offered to the false god, Asclepius with the hope of healing venereal disease.
The location of Corinth was strategic. It was ideally located to control north and south trade routes. Corinth was nearly a coastal city with a large port town of Lechaem only a mile and a half away, and Cenchreae was six miles to the east on the Saronic Gulf. Therefore, in 29 B.C., Julius Ceasar deemed that the city be rebuilt and recolonized with people favorable to the Roman empire. Corinth became the seat of a proconsul and the capital of the senatorial province of Achaia. Both wealthy, affluent Romans and Greeks flocked to the city, as well as those seeking business opportunities, and many retired Roman soldiers. Freed slaves also found Corinth a favorable place to settle. Jews moving there even founded a synagogue. Many new cults moved into the new city, too. It is important not to read "Old Corinth" into the new city; however, according to Carson and Moo, "traditions like that die hard, and as a great port city, Corinth likely did not establish a reputation for moral probity" (An Introduction to the New Testament, 2005, p. 420).
In Acts 18, we read that the Apostle Paul arrived in Corinth most likely between AD 48 and 51. It was during his second missionary journey. As a tentmaker, he quickly connected with other Jewish tentmakers named Priscilla and Aquila. Together, they attended meetings in the synagogue, arguing for the Gospel. In time, Silas and Timothy joined Paul in Corinth. Soon, they had established a gathering of believers in Titius Justus' home and eventually even the ruler of the synagogue, Crispus believed. They had planted a church.
Paul remained in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching and preaching the Word of God. Eventually, Paul departed for Ephesus. In Ephesus, they encountered a man named Apollos who "spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus." Apollos eventually crossed the sea to Archaia, the providence where Corinth was located. He also became a teacher to the Corinthians. And there is good evidence the Peter may have been in Corinth too.
While in Ephesus, Paul learned of some issues in the church in Corinth. He sent them a letter (that's not the one we call 1 Corinthians). This letter had something to do with associating with sexually immoral people. (See 1 Corinthians 5:9). At some point, Paul received another report (or more than one) of more problems at the church in Corinth. He wrote another letter to deal with these issues and clear up misunderstandings from his previous message. This letter is 1 Corinthians.
Between 1 and 2 Corinthians, we get a look at Paul's heart for the Corinthians. He loved them, although he was frustrated with them. He desperately desired that the Corinthian Christians would apply the Gospel to their lives and live in the transformation and sanctification of Jesus Christ.
We also learn that he hoped to join them again, which he did during his third missionary journey. It was during his second season with the Corinthians that he wrote Romans.
The Christians in Corinth were highly influenced by the worldview of their day. Excellent, skilled speakers were their heroes, regardless of the truth they spoke or how it lined up with the gospel. This bled into their practice with Christian teachers. They struggled to see that unity is essential. They wrongly justified why they could live sexual lives that directly opposed God's will. Sexual freedom and new ideas were gods to the people Corinth, and these views were still prevalent in the Church at Corinth. Old lifestyles and thinking die hard when they are not freely given to cross. The immaturity of the church in Corinth could be spotted from space. The city's influence on God's people was great, and this probably kept Paul up at night.
Given the background, you can probably guess why God is leading us to study this book. I'd like to encourage that you start reading through 1 Corinthians. Get a feel for the conversation. See Paul's heart and see the people's immaturity. Allow this book to speak to you and let's allow God to speak to us, as a church, through Paul's letter to the Corinthians.
I'm looking forward to what God might do on this journey. I hope you are too. And in the meantime, check out the simple overview of the entire letter in the short, animated video below.
For the Kingdom!
Pastor Bryan Catherman
*I would like to credit D.A. Carson and Douglas Moo's work, An Introduction to the New Testament, Zondervan, 2005 for the majority of information in this post.