Introduction to 1 Corinthians
Author, Date, and Recipients
The apostle Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthian church in the spring of a.d. 53, 54, or 55. This was near the end of his three-year ministry in Ephesus. Altogether Paul wrote four letters to this church: (1) the previous letter mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5:9; (2) 1 Corinthians; (3) the tearful, severe letter mentioned in 2 Corinthians 2:3–4; and (4) 2 Corinthians. Only 1 and 2 Corinthians have survived.
The Corinthian church, divided because of the arrogance of its more powerful members, should work together for the advancement of the gospel. They should repent of their rivalries, build up the faith of those who are weak, and witness effectively to unbelievers.
Paul received an oral report and a letter from the Corinthian church. These revealed a church struggling with division, immorality, idolatry, and theological confusion. He wrote them this letter so that they would become a true dwelling place for God’s Spirit (3:12, 16), stay faithful to the gospel, and be “guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:8).
- The church is the dwelling place of God’s Spirit. Thus, the people who make up the church should work for unity by building each other up (1:10–4:21, especially 3:10–16; 14:12).
- Christians should build up the church in four practical ways:
a. they should be sensitive to those with fragile faith (8:1–9:18; 10:28, 33).
b. they should win unbelievers to the faith (9:19–23; 10:27, 32–33).
c. they should conduct worship services in such a way that unbelievers might come to faith (14:16, 23–25).
d. their corporate worship should use spiritual gifts not out of personal pride, or for evaluating who has the better gift, but to build up the church (11:2–16; 12:12–30; 14:1–35).
- Sexual relations form a union between man and woman as deep as the union of the believer with Christ. Therefore sexual activity should be confined to marriage (5:1–13; 6:12–20; 7:5, 9, 36).
- Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are important. Yet both are less important than personal trust in the gospel and living in the way God commands (1:14–17; 10:1–5; 11:17–34; 15:29–34).
- The bodily resurrection of Jesus (and of his followers) from the dead is a key truth of the Christian faith (6:14; 15:1–58).
- Introduction to the Letter’s Main Themes (1:1–9)
- Divisions over Christian Preachers (1:10–4:21)
- A Report of Sexual Immorality and Lawsuits (5:1–6:20)
- Three Issues from the Corinthians’ Letter (7:1–11:1)
- Divisions over Corporate Worship (11:2–14:40)
- The Futility of Faith If the Dead Are Not Raised (15:1–58)
- The Collection for the Saints and Travel Plans (16:1–12)
- Closing Admonitions and Greetings (16:13–24)
The Setting of 1 Corinthians
c. a.d. 53–55
Paul wrote 1 Corinthians during his third missionary journey, near the end of his three-year ministry in Ephesus (Acts 19:21–22). Both Corinth and Ephesus were wealthy port cities steeped in pagan idolatry and philosophy. Corinth benefited both militarily and economically from its strategic location at one end of the isthmus that connected the southern Greek peninsula to the mainland.