I Corinthians

About the Corinthian Letters




Place and Time of Writing


Unique Characteristics






Opening I Corinthians Up


Paul introduced Christianity to Corinth on his 2MT in the early 50s.  After doing so he remained in Corinth and taught the house churches for 1 1/2 years.  At first Paul worked as a tentmaker and spent his free time preaching and discussing Christianity in the synagogues on Saturdays.  Eventually Silas and Timothy came to Corinth, and he devoted his time to preaching and teaching. 

    In the synagogues he discussed Jesus with the Jews.  Eventually they began abusing Paul and he decided to focus on the Gentiles in Corinth.  Even so, over time the Jews tried to get Paul in trouble by bringing him into court on the charge of disturbing the peace.  The case was rejected and Paul remained in Corinth. 

    [From this you can see that Paul was used to defending the idea that Jesus came to provide relationships with everyone and not just the Jews.  So when he wrote Romans, he was well prepared for any question they had.]

    On Paul’s 3MT and while he was in Ephesus, Paul learned that the house churches had many problems.  He probably learned about the problems from three men who came to visit him mentioned in 16:17 (Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus). They were argumentative and quarreling over how to handle problems in their churches.  Remember that the Gospels had not been written, and so we don’t know how much of the life or even words of Jesus was available to them.  They did have Paul’s teachings (he had stayed there for 1 1/2 years), but, in his absence, problems arose and they did not know the proper responses.  Even more, they developed cliques and competing groups instead of working together for solutions.  Paul did not want to go to Corinth immediately, and so decided to write a letter instead.  Therefore, the focus of the letter is to help the house churches work through their problems.

    One note:  In all these solutions, Paul’s ultimate goal is for unity in the house churches. 


The problems (I will only cover 3)


1.  Answer to Chloe’s Report of divisions:  1:10-17. 

Personality cults centering around Paul, Apollos, and Peter led to divisions and false pride among the Corinthians. 

Who were these people and why did they each have a following in the house churches?

Paul’s solution:  He reminded them that they were first and foremost followers of Christ.  He reminded them that he, Apollos, and Peter were simply servants of God.  Paul called them to unity and to look beyond having preferences to earthly leaders.  Basically, as I read it, Paul insinuates that they choose a leader that they can all (or almost all) agree with as long as they remain unified.


2.  Answer to Report of Adultery (chapter 5)

Paul addresses the incident of adultery between a member of the church and his stepmother.

Paul notes that this behavior has happened and the house churches have not acted.  One reason for this could be confusion among the Christians in Corinth.  After all, Paul told them not to follow the Law, which included the 10 Commandments, and so perhaps they were unclear as to how to handle adultery.  Nevertheless, Paul assured them that this was wrong and that they needed to change the situation. 

Paul’s solution:  He directed that they not associate with the man until he has stopped the behavior.  Paul’s purpose in following this course of action is to bring the man to repentance so that God could forgive him.  To “repent” means to stop the behavior and be truly sorry that you committed the behavior in the first place.  This is different then being sorry because you got caught.  True repentance would bring the man back into a proper relationship (called “fellowship”) with the house churches and with God.  Today this action is referred to as “church discipline.”  We will find out in II Corinthians that this worked and the man changed.


3.  Answer to Legal Action of a Believer against Another Believer in Civil Court (6:1-8)

Another indication of their poor judgment was when Christians in Corinth sued other Christians in a civil court.  Paul believed this was wrong for two reasons.

    1.  Christians suing Christians in court promoted an incorrect understanding of the message of Jesus.  By suing each other, non-Christians were given an example that led them to ask:  “Why should I accept Jesus? Christians are suing Christians like everyone else does.”  Therefore this was a bad example of how Christians were supposed to act toward each other.

    2.  It showed immaturity in the house churches.  Paul chastised them by saying, “Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the churches.” (6:4) 

    Paul’s solution:  Forgive the other person.  In Paul’s words, “Why not rather be wronged?  Why not rather be cheated?”  As Jesus gave many examples of forgiveness in his life, so Paul encouraged the churches to forgive each other.


Paul discusses other issues and problems, but we will only examine those three.


Comparing and Contrasting Romans and I Corinthians

Who is Paul focusing on? 

What does he say God wants from each of them?

How are the discussions formed?


Outline of I Corinthians



1:1-9:  Greetings

1:10-chapter 4

5:  Man in adultery

6:  Lawsuits among some Christians

7:  Christian marriage

8:  Whether or not to eat food sacrificed to idols

9:  Paul defended his teachings

10:1-13:  Paul used the OT to prove his teachings

10:14-end of 11:  Instructions on taking Communion and Worship

12:  Paul discussed spiritual gifts

13:  Paul discussed true love

14:  Paul discussed prophecy and speaking in tongues

15:  A short lesson on the resurrection of Christ and humans

16:  Instructions on giving money to God and closing with personal remarks


Readings from I Corinthians


Paul’s Greeting (1:3-9):  “Grace and peace to you fro God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.  For in him you have been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge—because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you.  Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.  He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.”


A definition of love (13:1-7):  “If I speak in the tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.  Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”


Timeline so far      Additions are boldfaced     All dates are approximate



Rome Empire conquered Israel without fighting


Julius Caesar assassinated by Brutus, Cassius, and others.  Mark Antony tries to seize power, and he and Octavian (Caesar’s nephew) fight for power.


The Roman Empire made Herod the Great king of Israel


Antony married Cleopatra in Egypt


Octavian’s forces defeated Antony and Cleopatra’s forces; they committed suicide the next year.


Octavian is given name of Augustus, becomes Augustus Caesar.  This is the beginning of Pax Romana

4 BC

Jesus born

4 BC

Joseph, Mary, and Jesus flee to Egypt because Herod the Great wanted to kill Jesus

4 BC

Herod the Great died

4 BC

After Herod the Great died, the kingdom of the Jews was divided and given to Herod’s three sons:

  • The northern part, north of Nazareth, went to Philip.

  • The middle part called Galilee, north of Jerusalem but where Nazareth was located, went to Herod Antipas.  (He is referred to as “Herod” in the Gospels and so this can be confusing.)

  • The southern part called Judea, where Jerusalem and Bethlehem was located, went to Herod Archelaus. 


All years after this point are AD



Joseph, Mary, and Jesus returned to Nazareth instead of moving to Bethlehem


Archelaus was removed from power because he was so brutal

6 and after

The Romans did not choose another of Herod’s descendants to control Judea (southern Israel) but instead appointed Roman governors


Jesus lost in Jerusalem at age 12; Joseph and Mary found him in the Temple; possible Bar Mitzvah


Jesus probably worked as a carpenter


The Roman governor in charge of southern Israel was Pilate


Jesus baptized by John the Baptist


Jesus traveled in Israel and preached, taught, and performed miracles


1.  Jesus was crucified under the Roman governor Pilate, raises from the dead three days later and ascends out of sight about a month-and-a-half later

2.  The Apostles return to Jerusalem and pick a replacement for Judas

3.  Day of Pentecost

4.  Over 3000 people become Christian

5.  Christianity spreads outside of Israel


Peter was the leader of the Christian movement


Paul became a Christian


Paul went on his First Missionary Trip


Council of Jerusalem


We do not know what John did during this time period


Paul went on his Second Missionary Trip


Nero was Roman emperor


Paul went on his Third Missionary Trip


Paul wrote the Epistle to the Romans


Paul wrote I Corinthians


Paul arrested in Jerusalem and taken to Rome


Paul released from prison and travelled; he may have gone to Spain


Fire in Rome.  The emperor Nero blamed, persecuted, and killed many Christians.  This was the first Roman persecution of Christians. 


1.  Paul back in Rome

2.  Peter and Paul martyred around this year in Rome


Some of the Jews got tired of the Roman rule and killed many Roman soldiers.  They thus took back the land of Israel for the Jews.


The Romans counter-attacked.  The Romans lost one battle, but won the war.


Mark written around this year


The Romans captured Jerusalem and burned the Temple. 


Matthew and Luke written around this year


Domitian is Roman emperor


John and Acts written around this year


1.  Persecution of Christians

2.  John was placed on the island of Patmos as a prisoner of Domitian


1.  Domitian died

2.  John was probably released from Patmos; he probably traveled to Ephesus where he stayed for the rest of his life


John died


First listing of the 27 books in a letter written by an Egyptian bishop


Two councils “closed” the NT canon to those 27 books


NT divided into chapters


NT divided into verses



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Questions/comments, contact Mark at marknickens@gmail.com