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The letter of 1 Corinthians was written from Ephesus about a year after the establishment of the church at Corinth, or A.D. 55. Letter writers in the first century would introduce their own name at the very start. Then, they would address the readers and give a greeting. Paul introduced himself as one "called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ" ( 1Co_1:1 ). It seems some had challenged Paul's apostleship ( 1Co_9:1 ; 2Co_12:1-2 ). Paul did not qualify as an apostle according to Peter's list of requirements in Act_1:20-22 , but was specially chosen by God and called ( Act_9:15 ; Rom_15:15-16 ).
Sosthenes, who was with the apostle when the letter was written, is unknown to us, though he may be the man of Act_18:17 . As will be seen later, Paul's purpose in writing this letter was twofold. First, he wanted to direct the church away from the error and disorder that had evidenced itself. Second, he intended to answer specific questions submitted to him.
The letter is addressed "to the church of God at Corinth" ( 1Co_1:2 ). Corinth was the capital and chief city of Achaia. Achaia is in the area we would now call Greece. Corinth became such an important city because of its location just one and a half miles south of the Isthmus of Corinth. It was able to control that four mile wide neck of land. The city also commanded the eastern port of that isthmus, Cenchreae, which is mentioned in Act_18:18 . To save time and avoid the one hundred fifty miles of dangerous waters around the tip of Greece, ships would unload their goods on one side of isthmus and have them carried to the other side. Some smaller ships were even pulled across and placed in the water on the other side. Therefore, Corinth was a trading center by land and sea. Of course, it was also strategic militarily speaking.
The Roman minority was a strong force in the population, as this was one of the colonies established by Julius Caesar. The commercial prospects caused a large group of Jews to settle in this city. Greeks also played a great role. Because of the seaport and commerce, many other nationalities mixed with the above mentioned major groups.
Corinth was well known for its corruption. Charles Pfeiffer, in Baker's Bible Atlas, writes, "Greeks, Romans, Jews and adventurers from the entire Mediterranean world came to Corinth for trade and vice in all its forms. 'To live like a Corinthian,' became synonymous with a life of luxury and licentiousness." The immoral nature of the city was added to by the temple of Aphrodite, goddess of love, which was located in Corinth. A thousand priestesses of the goddess served as prostitutes who were available for the free use of temple visitors.
The Church in Corinth
Luke reports in the book of Acts that Paul first came to Corinth on the second missionary journey. He stayed with Aquila and Priscilla and worked with them in the tent-making trade. As was his custom, he entered the synagogue every Sabbath to reason with the Jews and Greeks who were present there. When Silas and Timothy came, he especially emphasized that Jesus is the Christ. Unfortunately, his listeners rejected the truth and spoke against Christ. Paul then shook the dust off his feet and went to the Gentiles to preach. The chief ruler of the synagogue and many other Corinthians believed and were baptized. The Lord appeared to Paul in a vision urging him to preach without fear and assuring him no one would hurt him. So, Paul preached there for a year and a half ( Act_18:1-18 ).
In this letter, Paul addressed the members of the church located in Corinth by ascribing ownership to God. It is God's church in that the Father and the Son sacrificed to purchase the church, so it truly belongs to God ( Joh_3:16-17 ; Act_20:28 ). The New Testament church is referred to in a number of ways. These references can be to the church universally, locally or to the individual members of the church. Other designations include, the churches of Christ and the church of firstborn ones ( Rom_16:16 ; Heb_12:22-23 ). In the Corinthian letter, Paul also refers to the members of the church as "sanctified," which means "set apart" or "separated to a sacred service." As Paul says, this separation takes place "in Christ Jesus" (compare Joh_17:17 and Eph_5:25-26 ). The word "saints" indicates they are "holy ones."
Words of Encouragement
Paul used a Christian approach to the typical greetings in letters of that day. He wanted them to experience all of God's unmerited favor, or grace. Notice, Paul says that grace is given by Christ Jesus. He was thankful they had received God's grace when they obeyed the gospel. He also wanted them to be at peace in a way the world cannot understand ( 1Co_1:3-4 ; Php_4:6-7 ).
Additionally, the apostle said their obedience led to their being made rich in "everything," meaning "in every respect". In chapters 12 and 14, Paul mentions many of the gifts they had received. They were able to teach, preach, prophesy and speak in tongues ( 1Co_12:8-10 ; 2Co_8:7 ; 2Co_11:6 ). Too, God granted them "knowledge" of the gospel and what man must do to be saved. They were able to confirm truth through the gifts God gave them ( 1Co_1:5-6 ).
The Corinthian brethren were equal to other churches in the miraculous power they received ( 2Co_12:13 ). Because of the things they had received, they anxiously awaited the Lord's return to reclaim his own. God and Jesus had caused them to be forgiven ( Col_1:21-23 ). Thus, they were without spot and no one could call them into account in the day of judgment ( 1Co_1:7-8 ). The apostle said they were called into fellowship, which Lipscomb calls an eternal partnership between Christ and those joined to him ( 1Co_1:9 ; Galatians 3:2627 ). They could count on that partnership because God is faithful. He always keeps his promises ( 2Pe_3:9 ).
A Plea to End Divisions
Christ's name was used nine times by Paul in the first nine verses of 1Co_1:1-31 . He was shown to be good and important to the Christian. In the tenth verse, his name is used for its authority ( Mat_28:18 ). The speech of all Christians should be completely in agreement with that revealed through the Holy Spirit. Paul did not want any "divisions," which would be splits, gaps, or tears. Instead, he wanted them to be "perfectly joined together," which means to repair as one might a broken instrument or set a bone like a doctor. Christians should have the same purpose, or mind, and be of the same opinion, or judgment ( 1Co_1:10 ; Joh_17:20-23 ). Assuming everyone is guided by Christ's authority, such an end should easily be achieved.
Reports had come to the apostle of "contentions," or strife, quarreling, rivalry and wrangling, going on among the Corinthian brethren. They had gone so far as to form different groups claiming to follow Paul, Apollos, Peter and Christ. Apollos had worked with these people after Aquila and Priscilla showed him "the way of God more perfectly" ( Act_18:24-28 ; Act_19:1 ). Ordinarily, all Christians should follow Christ. However, some may have formed a sect following Christ. These would not hear messengers sent from Christ ( 1Co_1:11-12 ; Luk_10:6 ).
The church is Christ's body (12:12-13, 27; Eph_1:22-23 ). Christ bought that body with his blood ( Act_20:28 ). Paul asked if that body could be cut into pieces and given to various men to lead. Jesus became the author of salvation by his death on the cross ( Heb_2:9-10 ; Php_2:5-11 ). Paul was saying they should only follow Jesus who was their redeemer. The one into whose name one is baptized is recognized as the one in whose power he resides. Also, the baptizing would be done by his authority ( 1Co_1:13 ).
Personal Thoughts From Paul
Because of the division and strife, Paul was glad he had only baptized a few of them. Crispus was ruler of the synagogue ( Act_18:8 ). Paul wrote his letter to the Romans from Gaius' house ( Rom_16:23 ). Those who had seen these men obey the gospel knew he neither baptized in his own name, nor made disciples for himself ( Act_9:15 ; 2Co_4:5-7 ). Paul thought of himself as a vessel to carry the message ( 1Co_1:14-15 ).
The apostle did also baptize the household of Stephanas, who were the first baptized in Achaia ( 1Co_16:15 ). He did not recall any others he baptized. This may have been for one of two reasons. First, he did not try to recall how many he had baptized because God gives the increase. Two, he may not have baptized any others. In either case, Paul saw his primary work was preaching. Others did the baptizing for him. He preached all of Christ's gospel without using vain human wisdom ( 1Co_1:16-17 ; Act_20:26-27 ).
Jesus Christ, Wisdom from God
So, Paul said, not many of those who would be called wise, or powerful or noblemen followed Jesus. Most uprisings are successful because the upper crust leaders join and the lowly commoners follow. Christianity appealed to the lowly and spread to those wrapped up in self. Remember, the disciples were common fisherman ( 1Co_1:26 ).
God, as in the case of Gideon, used means man would not use to accomplish his purposes. Thus, man finds it harder to credit the means and seeks the power behind the means (see Psa_8:2 ; Jam_2:5 ). "God has chosen" those of lowly birth. God also chose things which are not. As Pulpit Commentary points out, the word "not" means things that men did not even think of as existing. Men thought of the cross as "base" or lowly. They thought of Christ as dead, or nonexistent, but he was chosen as the one to display God to the world instead of any other fleshly messenger. McGarvey and Pendleton say "flesh" represents ministers and instruments God uses. They further suggest that "glory" means to "take pride in himself, and aspire to be head of a faction." All the glory should go to God ( 1Co_1:27-29 ; Mat_5:16 ; 2Co_4:7 ).
We get into Christ's body by obeying God. If we listen to Jesus, great wisdom will be ours ( Mat_12:42 ). "Righteousness" is the right relation to God brought about by believing and obeying Jesus ( 2Co_5:21 ). Vine says "sanctification" is "separation to God." Vine says "redemption" is "the deliverance of the believer from the presence and power of sin, and of his body from bondage to corruption." So, as McGarvey and Pendleton point out, we should not glory in the preacher who brought the message, but in the One who planned our salvation ( 1Co_1:30-31 ; Jer_9:23-24 ).
The Foolishness of Preaching
To those who are worldly minded, the preaching of the gospel is silly and absurd. To those who "are being saved" (footnote ASV) the gospel is mighty, like dynamite. The Greek word used here is dunamis as is also the case in Rom_1:16 . To further show man must learn to rely upon God for knowledge which is valuable, Paul quotes from Isa_29:14 . It simply is not within the scope of man's ability to save himself ( 1Co_1:18-19 ; Jer_10:23 ).
While men became big headed over human knowledge, it was nothing compared with God's wisdom. By his wisdom, man was unable to know God, that is, his mind and character. Though man used everything at his disposal, he was unable to discover God without divine revelation. As Paul said on Mars Hill, "So that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us" ( Act_17:22-31 ; especially 27). Though it seemed silly to man, God revealed his will for him in the preaching of the gospel ( 1Co_1:20-21 ).
The Crucified Christ Displays God's Wisdom
Instead of gospel preaching, the Jews wanted a sign Jesus was the Messiah. McGarvey and Pendleton mention several examples of the Jews' demands for signs ( Mat_12:38 ; Mat_16:1 ; Joh_1:18 ; Joh_4:48 ). They looked for a messiah to conquer Rome. So, Jesus' teaching and the cross was a stumbling block. They did not want to hear his kingdom was not of this world. Certainly, they did not want their messiah to die on a cross.
The Greeks rejected Christ as God's spokesman for a different reason. They wanted a greater wise man than the world had known. In their wisdom, they considered flesh, in and of itself, to be sinful. So, they could not believe God would take on human form, since that did not match up with their wisdom ( 1Co_1:22-23 ).
God does his calling in the message of the gospel. In his second letter to the brethren at Thessalonica, Paul wrote, "But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ" ( 1Co_2:13-14 ). Those who accepted the gospel call saw Christ as a great sign and the Messiah. They saw the great knowledge needed to plan such a means of salvation ( 1Co_1:24 ).
While the death of Christ on Calvary may have seemed foolish to the Greeks, it turned out to be above man's wisdom. In that death, all men have a means of overcoming the grave. Similarly, Christ's death on the cross seemed to be a clear sign of weakness to the Jews. "Likewise the chief priests, also mocking with the scribes and elders, said, 'He saved others; Himself He cannot save, If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him'" ( Mat_27:41-42 ). In fact, his death and resurrection from the tomb was the only way to crush the head of Satan and render the grave powerless over his followers ( 1Co_1:25 ; Heb_2:14-18 ).
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Hampton, Gary. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 1". "Gary Hampton Commentary on Selected Books". https://www.studylight.org/
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