Looking at the Historical and Literary contexts and the outline of the letter.

Map of Corinth / Map of Corinth's Location / Picture of the Temple of Apollo / Outline Chart


(i) The Historical Context:

Let us now go through the first step which is that of understanding the HISTORIC SITUATION that First Corinthians was written in.

General Historical Context...The City in history.

Under each of the headings below try to think how you can (if at all) apply the situation it was written in to the country/ situation that you are living in now:

(1) AGE: After lying waste for 100 years it was rebuilt by Julius Caesar in 44BC.

When Paul came to the city it was less that 100 years old. It was therefore a young city, but when Paul came in it was the third most important city in the world. This spectacular growth was due to one thing : Click here to find out what!

(2) LOCATION: Click here for a map of were Corinth is.

It was strategically located at the 'Ishmus' - a narrow strip of land - (modern day Greece) which gave it economic importance. The Acropolis (Fortress) gave it military importance.

Hence it was a WEALTHY and SECURE city. It was part of an area known ACHAIA as just south of MACEDONIA.

(3) COMPOSITION: The city was a cosmopolitan one with Jews, Greeks, Romans, Merchants, Seamen etc... So it had an international flavour.

(4) MORALLY: Old Corinth (See a map) was well know for being immoral.

The temple of Aphrodites (Godess of Love) had 1000 temple prostitutes. New Corinth was also immoral - there is evidence of widespread sexual disease. Sexual immorality was linked to their strong emphasis on Idolatry - See 1 Corinthians 5:1-13; 6:9,12-20; 10:8.

(5) INTELLECTUALLY: Philosophers abounded. Indeed Corinth was filled with art and philosophy (many 'seminars' etc.)...but they were not really interested in learning the truth, they only wanted to listen to great speakers and have their ears tickled!!! (See 1 Cor 1:17,20,25).

(6) RELIGION: The Corinthians were RELIGIOUS and IMMORAL - the two went together. They sought after religious ecstasy and personal religious experience.

Click here for more about Corinth (also read this article about Corinth).

All the above points shaped the spiritual climate of Corinth showing the main spiritual powers and principalities over the city:

(1) The spirit of INDIVIDUALITY and INDEPENDENCE. Due to their great wealth and rapid growth of the City the people became greedy and proud.

(2) The spirit of FALSE WISDOM - thinking they knew it all (knowledge based economy). A shallow interest in wisdom and truth (idolizing of speakers etc..)

(3) The Godess Aphrodites, godess of love (false concept of love - lust).

All the above spiritual forces invaded the church at Corinth as we shall see. What are the spiritual forces over the City that you are in and how are they effecting the church ?

Specific Historical context...The Church in Corinth at Paul's time.

The church was, like the city, COSMOPOLITAN (see 1 Corinthians 12:13). The majority of the members were not wealthy: they were rebels, slaves, corrupt people before. The minority were wealthy and influential people.

As we shall see, the church was effected by the city life in respect to it's attitude to WISDOM and IMMORALITY and the spirit of INDIVIDUALITY and INDEPENDENCE is seen in:

(1) Division over favorite teachers.

(2) Arrogance inspite of immorality in the midst of the church.

(3) Taking one another to public court.

(4) The desire for celibacy.

(5) Attending temple meals even if it destroyed the weaker's faith.

(6) Refusal by some women to wear the customary veil.

(7) Favoritism of rich against the poor, demonstrated in the love feasts.

(8) Incorrect emphasis on tongues to the tearing down of the church.

(9) Wrong views concerning bodily resurrection.

Paul's relationship to the Corinthian Church...

Acts 18 records Paul's first visit to Corinth on his second missionary journey (see the map). He was there for 18 months as a tent maker, planting the church with the help of Aquila and Priscilla. Apollos followed Paul as a teacher to Corinth.

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(ii) The Literary Context:

The REASON for the letter is two-fold. See 1 Corinthians 1:10-12 and 1 Corinthians 7:1 and note what are the two events that caused Paul to write. These will form the basic outline we will look at later.

The first was a verbal report by some of Chloe's household (probably a member of the church there) of divisions, incest, lawsuits and fornication in the church (covered by chapters 1-6).

The second was a letter written to Paul by the Corinthian church (probably the leadership). This letter had queries concerning marriage issues, food offered to idols and stumbling others in this matter, women in the church, the Lord's supper, Spiritual gifts and bodily resurrection. Paul answered in detail each one of these in Chapters 7-15.

This letter is Paul's second to the Corinthians (see 1 Cor 5:9) and was written from Ephesus two and a half years after Paul left Corinth.

For more read Holman Bible Dictionary's overview of First Corinthians and the New Testament Commentary's Introduction to First Corinthians.

In the light of the above take a look at the following basic outline of the Epistle. This will be constantly referred to as it places each passage in context....

Simple outline chart for 1 Corinthians

Click here for Nelson's Outline of First Corinthians.

Click here for R.E.Glaze's outline for First Corinthians.

Read the New Bible Companions excellent article on 'The Needs Met By First Corinthians'.

Knowing the heart of Paul, a missions heart, we can further say that he was linking in with the strategic missions strategy of the Holy Spirit when he was led to plant a church in Corinth. Corinth, as we have seen, was a strategic city politically, economically and socially. Also, it would have been strategic as a missions sending base to launch forth into Europe (Paul's Macedonian call was primarily a call to a new continent, the gospel started to reach Europe for the first time). Paul would bend over backwards to see the Corinthian Church as a healthy missions church. As we go through the epistle let us remember that Paul wanted to correct the Corinthian Church's behaviour so that they would become a light to the gentiles..in Corinth, in the surrounding nations and in the world.

Paul's central message was that the Church move in agape, self sacrificial, love (especially chapter 13 which is the key chapter) in all it's dealings. Jesus said, "If you love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15) - His commandments could be wrapped up in the the statement 'love God, love others'. He also said that the world shall know we are His disciples when they see that we love one another.

For our Churches to be 'Great Commission' ones they must be moving in the Love of God. This is what Paul demonstrates in this letter in every area that he addresses.

We will now be looking at the specific Church problems keeping all the above in mind to give us an accurate interpretation and application to our own Church situation and Christian experience....

Click here to go to Lesson Two: Divisions


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