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Bible Commentaries

McGarvey's Commentaries on Selected Books

1 Corinthians

- 1 Corinthians

by John McGarvey

INTRODUCTION TO THE EPISTLE

The Corinth of Paul’s day was a comparatively new city, with a population of about 400,000. The old Corinth, so famous and powerful in the days of the Peloponnesian war, had been burned by the Roman consul, L. Mummius, B. C. 146, and, having lain a desolation for a century, had been rebuilt by Julius Cæsar, A. D. 46, as a token of respect to Venus, its patron goddess; for Cæsar claimed a mythical descent from her. He had colonized it largely with Roman freemen, so that its population was very heterogeneous; though the Greeks stamped their character upon the inhabitants generally, and Corinth became the Vanity Fair of the Roman Empire, its citizens being dishonest, voluptuous, litigious, speculative, suspicious, factious, volatile and excessively egotistic. The chastity of our age wisely forbids us to unveil the profligacy and licentiousness of this hotbed of vice, with its richly endowed temple of Venus, supporting a thousand priestesses dedicated to harlotry, so that even in that dark age Corinth had a bad name. Discouraging as the field was, Paul entered it alone, and was there for three months before Silas and Timothy joined him. However, he found there Aquila and Priscilla, and their companionship strengthened him greatly. Paul reasoned in the Jewish synagogue until Silas and Timothy came, after which the hostility of the Jews drove him to the house of Justus, and afterwards arraigned him before Gallio. After a year and a half of labor in Corinth, an account of which will be found at Acts 18:1-17; Paul returned to Antioch by way of Jerusalem, and setting out on his third missionary journey, came to Ephesus, where he sojourned for three years, during which time he probably visited Corinth once, and wrote an Epistle which is now lost, and which is older than this which we call his first Epistle. Before Paul’s arrival at Ephesus, the eloquent Apollos, having been there more fully instructed by Aquila and Priscilla, came to Corinth, gained great popularity, and gathered many converts. Then Apollos joined Paul at Ephesus, and after his departure the church at Corinth divided into factions, some claiming to be followers of Paul, and others of Apollos, and others of Peter, and others of Christ. The Petrine faction was likely formed by Judaizers who habitually exalted Peter to disparage Paul. These may have been added to the church by letter (2 Corinthians 3:1). But it is possible that Peter himself may have been at Corinth, for Dionysius, the bishop of Corinth, in a letter written to the church at Rome about A. D. 170, claims that Peter visited and labored in Corinth (Eusebius, Book 2, chap. 25). In addition to this evil and factious spirit, the licentiousness, for which the city was noted, appeared in the church in a most flagrant form, and the spiritual tone of the church became so sadly lowered that even the Lord’s table took the form of a secular banquet, and became a scene of envy and disorder. To remedy matters, Paul sent Timothy and Erastus to Corinth. Before their return the church at Corinth sent Fortunatus, Achaicus and Stephanas, bearing a letter from the Pauline (or largest) party, asking the apostle for instructions in many matters, such as marriages, the eating of idolatrous meat, the attire of women, relative value of spiritual gifts, the resurrection, and the collection for the poor at Jerusalem. Responding to all these reasons for a letter, the apostle wrote this that we call the first Epistle to the Corinthians. It was written, as we see, from Ephesus in the spring, or a little before Pentecost, A. D. 57 (1 Corinthians 16:8).