The epistle was written from Ephesus (16:8), a city on the west coast of today's Turkey, about 180 miles by sea from Corinth. According to Acts of the Apostles, Paul founded the church in Corinth (Acts 18:1-17), then spent approximately three years in Ephesus (Acts 19:8, 19:10, 20:31). Probably written sometime between 53 and 57 AD.
· Salutation and thanksgiving (1)
· Division in Corinth (1-5)
· Immorality in Corinth (5-6)
· Christian conduct in marriage, and in dealings with pagans (7-11)
· Spiritual gifts (12-14)
· Doctrine of resurrection (15)
· Valedictions (16)
Although the New Testament only contains two letters to the Corinthians, the evidence from the letters themselves is that he wrote at least four:
· 1 Cor 5:9 – ‘I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people’. This early letter is sometimes called the ‘warning letter’.
· 1 Corinthians
· A severe letter. Paul refers to an earlier ‘letter of tears’ in 2 Corinthians 2:3-4 and 7:8. 1 Corinthians does not match that description, so this ‘letter of tears’ may have been written between 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians.
· 2 CorinthiansThe abrupt change of tone from being previously harmonious to bitterly reproachful in 2 Corinthians 10-13 has led many to speculate that chapters 10-13 form part of the ‘letter of tears’ and were tagged on to Paul's main letter. Others claim that the ‘letter of tears’ is no longer extant.
Paul greets the church, which is sanctified (set apart) in Jesus Christ, called to be saints. Grace and peace. Plea for unity – Christ is not divided. Paul does not baptise in his own name. The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. The world in its wisdom did not know God. The foolishness of God is wiser than men. God’s foolish wisdom is also demonstrated in those he has chosen for salvation. Jeremiah 9:23-24 is quoted: ‘Let him who glories, glory in the Lord.’
Paul did not preach to the Corinthians with ‘wisdom’ or excellent speech. Faith should not be in men’s wisdom, but in the power of God. The wisdom of God is not the same as the wisdom of the world – if it had been, Christ would not have been crucified. God’s wisdom is known only by the Holy Spirit. The ‘natural’ and the ‘spiritual’ man are contrasted.
The Corinthians have a carnal mindset – they are babes in Christ, fed with milk rather than solid food. Corinthian factionalism suggests carnality. ‘I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.’ The church is a building, and Christ is the foundation of all. Fire will test the building we have done, destroying what is made of inferior materials. Individual Christians are temples. Wisdom and foolishness tropes used once more.
We are servants and stewards of Christ. Paul is justified not by human courts, but answers only to God. Do not be puffed up with pride. ‘We are weak, but you are strong!’ – Paul sarcastically contrasts his own ‘foolishness’ with their greatness. Shall I come to you with a rod, or in love and a spirit of gentleness?
There are accusations of sexual immorality among the Corinthians – a man with his father’s wife. Paul, who is present in spirit, has judged the person who has committed this sin – he mmust be given over to Satan, that his flesh may be destroyed, and his spirit saved. A little sin affects everyone – a little leaven leavens the whole lump. Let us purge this leaven, for Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Paul admonishes church members to keep themselves separate from immoral people.
Paul denounces the recourse to the pagan law courts in disputes among Christians. A wrong should be accepted rather than taken to court. Paul roundly rebukes the wrongdoer. A principle for sexual purity among Christians: what is permitted is not our only guide for behavior. ‘All is lawful for me, but not all things are helpful.’ Appetites for food and sex are not the same. Our bodies are part of the body of Christ, and so should never be joined to a prostitute. The body is a temple.
In marriage, husbands and wives each have authority over the body of the other. Husbands and wives should not sexually deprive each other – however, Paul does not say this as an absolute command. Singleness is preferable, but marriage is acceptable if people cannot exercise self-control. It is better to marry than to burn with passion. Divorce and remarriage disapproved of. Unbelieving husbands or wives are sanctified by their believing spouses – unbelief is not a grounds for divorce. Live in the same state you were in when called. Circumcision is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter if you are a slave, because you are freeman to the Lord. Marriage is not a sin. Nonetheless, Paul warns about being too committed to a world that will pass away. The unmarried have the potential to please God with less worldly distraction. A father may or may not give his virgin daughter away in marriage. A widow is free to remarry, although remaining single is preferable.
Idols are nothing. Christians are therefore free to eat meat offered to an idol at a pagan temple. However, their conscience is defiled if they eat and think their eating is a sin. What we eat or do not eat does not make us more spiritual. Those with a strong conscience must respect the views of those with a weak conscience.
Paul has the right to be supported by those he ministers to: an ox treading the grain must not be muzzled (Deuteronomy 25:4). Thus supported, he can preach the gospel without charge. Paul is flexible in his ministry – all things to all men. Paul is an athlete who competes for an imperishable crown.
Israel was blessed, yet God scattered them in the wilderness. The rock they drank of was Christ. Let us avoid Israel’s bad examples in terms of idolatry and sexual immorality. These things are written for out admonition. ‘We, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.’ The gods the pagans sacrifice to may actually be demons. All things are lawful, but not necessarily helpful. Do not ask any questions about meat offered you at markret, or an unbeliever’s house, but avoid it if you are told it has been offered to idols. Do not seek to give offence to Jews or Greeks, but do all for the glory of God.
The principle of headship: the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Men praying or prophesying should have their heads uncovered; women’s heads should be covered. Men and women are interdependent. Long hair is the glory of a woman, and the shame of a man. The Lord’s Supper should be eaten together, not with some starting their meal before others. Paul reminds them of the commemorative purpose of the Lord’s Supper – inappropriate behavior makes one guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. Wait before you start eating!
Those who have spiritual gifts glorify Jesus. Gifts are diverse, but the Spirit behind them is the same. Gifts may include wisdom, knowledge, faith, miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, speaking in tongues, and interpreting tongues. Diverse members make up the single body of the church – no member is separate, any more than a body part can be separate.
Without love, all spiritual gifts are meaningless. Love is not envious, proud, arrogant, rude, cliquish, easily provoked, suspicious, nor happy with evil. Unlike spiritual gifts, love can never fail. Spiritual gifts are appropriate for the present time, but not forever – they belong to a spiritual childhood, and to seeing through a glass darkly. In time, however, we will put away childish things and know as we are known. Of faith, hope and love, love is the greatest.
Speaking in tongues is speaking to God, whereas prophesying is speaking to men for their edification, and ultimately more useful. Speaking in tongues is self-edifying, and incomprehensible to others. If there is no distinction in the notes played on musical instruments, how will we know what is played? Speaking in tongues is a sign more for unbelievers than believers. Let all things be done for edification. Paul would prefer an interpreter if someone speaks publically in tongues. Prophets must take it in turns to speak, and not all speak at the same time. It is shameful for women to speak in church – if they wish to know something, they must ask their husbands at home.
Paul has preached to the Corinthians the gospel of the resurrected Christ, who was seen by over five hundred people. Paul too saw him, and was turned from his previous ways. Paul challenges those who say there is no resurrection. Christ is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. In Adam all die, but in Christ all shall be made alive. The last enemy Christ will destroy will be death itself. If the dead do not raise, then let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die! Our bodies are like seeds, which are buried in the earth, but grow into resurrection bodies. There are terrestrial bodies and celestial bodies – the body is sown in corruption, but raised incorruptible. The first Adam is a man of dust, the last Adam a heavenly man. In the resurrection, we shall bear the image of the heavenly man. The change from corruption to incorruption shall happen at the last trumpet. O death, where is your sting?
Instruction to put something aside for a weekly collection, which will be borne to Jerusalem. Paul plans to visit Corinth. Paul commends Timothy, who is coming to visit the Corinthians. Apollos will come later. Do all with love. Paul is sending his latter by means of Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus. Greetings from Aquila and Priscilla. Greet one another with a holy kiss. Final anathema on anyone who does not love the Lord Jesus Christ. O Lord, come!