A Brief Introduction to 1 Corinthians
Corinth was a seaport, and, it was generally prosperous, populous and cosmopolitan, with large numbers of Romans, Greeks and a significant minority of Jews. There was also a floating population of merchants and seafarers from Egypt, Syria and Asia. It was the capital city of the Roman province of Achaia.
Corinth had a reputation as a place of debauchery. The skyline was dominated by the temple (the ‘Acrocorinth’) to the goddess Aphrodite, with its 1000 priestesses (sacred prostitutes). There was also the temple of Apollo in the city itself which celebrated the male form and virility. Corinth was therefore also a centre for homosexual practices. In addition, Melicertes, the god of navigation, was also worshipped.
Paul stayed in Corinth for approximately 18 months (see Acts 18.1-18) – longer than anywhere else on his missionary journeys, except for Ephesus) as part of his second missionary journey. This is thought to be around March AD 50 or so. He is likely emotionally drained from his treatment by the Macedonians (especially in Philippi) and from his time in Athens. He no longer has Silas and Timothy with him either. In fact, he admits that he came in fear and some trepidation (1 Corinthians 2.3). As ever, he began by teaching in the synagogue, until the Jewish authorities objected when he begins ministry from a Gentile house next door. He lodges with Aquila and Priscilla and works as a tent maker to earn money.
The church is established, with some notable conversions among Gentiles as well as Jews. And Paul always feels an affection for the Corinthian church as a place where he had seen God work through his own weakness.
The letter named 1 Corinthians is likely to date from about AD 54 (ie it was written while he was in Ephesus) and seems to arise from two main factors: Paul had heard reports of the church which alarmed him (1.11; 5.1) and he had received a delegation from Corinth asking his advice in certain areas of church life (7.1; 16.17). Regarding the former, it seems that members of the church had not been able/willing to make enough of a break with the some of the (often immoral) ways of the Corinthian society around them. For the latter, there seem to have been questions about marriage versus celibacy, about food offered to idols, as well as public worship and spiritual gifts.