Understanding The Bible
BY THE AUTHOR
Dr. Clarence E. Mason, Jr.
Philadelphia College of Bible
INTRODUCTION (from Arthur S. Way)
Corinth, in Paul’s day, was the chief city of the Roman province of Acliaia (now Greece), having a population of about 400,000. Strategically situated, it was noted for its commerce and for the wealth and wickedness of its people. The population consisted of Greeks, Jews, Italians, and a mixed multitude.
Eloquent speech and human wisdom were exalted by these people. This makes peculiarly significant Paul’s purposeful avoidance of these very things during his ministry among them (1 Corinthians 2; Acts 18:1-18).
During his stay of about two years (52-53) at Corinth, Paul gained some Jewish converts, and many more from the ranks of the Gentile population, of which beside the native Greeks, a large number were Italian freedmen. The members of the church were drawn mostly from the lower orders of society.
After Paul left, Apollos came to Corinth and created no light impression by his eloquent preaching. Thereupon two parties began to develop; one adhering to Paul, the other to Apollos; and to these was added a third, doubtless as result of a visit from Judaizing teachers who claimed authority from Peter; while a fourth party, repudiating the others, claimed to be the only followers of Christ.
The Corinthians let their Christianity degenerate into a system of philosophy centralized by human wisdom. As a result, disorders of various kinds soon crept in.
At some time during his subsequent stay at Ephesus, the apostle wrote to the Corinthian church a letter (now lost) in which he spoke of his intention to visit them, urged on them the duty of contributing to the relief of the pauperized church at Jerusalem, and emphatically cautioned them against practicing or countenancing immorality. In time there came a reply from Corinth, silent as to any abuses in the church, hut the bearers of the letter horrified Paul by the account they gave him of disorders which had sprung up during his four-year absence:
(1) the church was split up into religious factions;
(2) the uncontrolled exercise of the gifts of the Spirit, especially of the gift of “tongues, “ made their gatherings scenes of confusion and uproar;
(3) the Eucharistic meetings were profaned by selfish gluttony and drunkenness;
(4) women outraged public opinion by addressing mixed meetings unveiled;
(5) members of the church defrauded one another in business and carried their disputes before heathen tribunals;
(6) some were relapsing into their old heathen practices of immorality, which they justified by pleading their Christian liberty (‘all things are permissible for me’ was their watchword);
(7) and, worst of all, a glaring case of incest was condoned by the leaders of opinion in the church; (8) in addition, some were skeptical as to the resurrection of the body.
To these abuses the letter itself made no reference; indeed, the general tone of it was one of entire self-satisfaction. It began with the assurance that they “remembered him in all things, and were observing the rules he had laid down for their guidance. “ It went on to say that, while they all possessed the Spirit’s gift of inward “illumination, “ there were yet differences of opinion among them with respect to points of conscience and matters of procedure, on which they would like to have an expression of his views, viz.:
In his answer the apostle deals first with the graver things (chapters 1-6) which their letter had failed to mention—the disorders and immoralities which threatened to shipwreck the cause at Corinth (one-third of his letter being occupied with these) before he touches on the questions propounded to him. And then he replies to their questions (chapters 7-16).
A SUMMARY OUTLINE
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