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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

- 1 Corinthians

by Editor - Joseph S. Exell

The Preacher’s Complete homiletic



By the

New York





I. THE Homilist should keep in his mind something like the following Synopsis of the story in the Acts, relating to Paul’s movements and labours at the period during which our Epistles were written:—


Acts 18:1. After preaching at Athens, Paul enters Corinth for the first time (Acts 2:1). [Second missionary journey.] Silas and Timothy had been left behind at Berœa, with orders from Athens to join him as early as possible, he waiting at Athens for them (Acts 17:15).


Acts 18:2-4. Lives and works with Aquila and Priscilla, themselves recently come to Corinth from Rome.


Acts 18:5. Silas and Timothy rejoin him.


Acts 18:6-8. After giving the Jews the first of his (specially earnest, ver. 5; note the var. lect.) labour, he removes from the synagogue to the house of Justus close by, taking with him Crispus (1 Corinthians 1:14); many Corinthians, baptized (1 Corinthians 1:14, not by him as a rule), reward his labour in the new place.


Acts 18:9-11. Special vision of Christ to encourage him (1 Corinthians 2:3). An eighteen months’ stay, during which (allowing “a good whileafter it, ver. 18) occurred the riot and Paul’s appearance before Gallio [Sosthenes] (12–17).


Acts 18:18-21. With Priscilla and Aquila he crossed to Ephesus; himself en route for Jerusalem, they remaining in Ephesus (1 Corinthians 16:19).


Acts 18:22-23. Cæsarea, Jerusalem; “some time” in Antioch; then Galatia and Phrygia, “in order.”


[Acts 18:24-28. Apollos comes to Ephesus. After his instruction by Aquila and Priscilla, the brethren commend him to Achaia, where he “waters” what Paul had “planted” (1 Corinthians 3:6).]


Acts 19:1-7. During (h) Paul completes (g) and reaches Ephesus. John the Baptist’s disciples, (of whom Apollos had been one).


Acts 19:8-12. Three months of discussion in the Ephesian synagogue. Then two years in the school of Tyrannus, hired or lent. “All Asia” hear the word. Handkerchief and apron miracles.


Acts 19:13-20. Ephesian magic vanquished. “Word grows mightily and prevails.”


Acts 19:21-22. After these things (making “three years,” Acts 20:31) Paul plans a journey to Jerusalem, viâ Macedonia and Achaia. Timothy and Erastus sent into Macedonia before him.


Acts 19:23-41. While Paul lingers in Ephesus, the riot of Demetrius occurs.


Acts 20:1. Paul “goes over” [viâ Troas (2 Corinthians 2:12)] Macedonia, “giving them much exhortation.”


Acts 20:2-3. Three months in Greece, i.e. (probably chiefly) in Corinth. Intended to sail for Syria, but a plot of the Jews made him go first to Macedonia (Berœa, Thessalonica, Philippi); thence to Troas, Miletus, etc., to Jerusalem; thence, ultimately, to Rome.


1. Two visits, therefore, are recorded in the Acts [(a)—(f) and (p)], separated by the interval occupied by the journey to Jerusalem, “some time” in Antioch, the visit to Galatia and Phrygia “in order” [(g)], and three years in Ephesus [(j)—(m)]. The first appears by reminiscent allusion several times in the First Epistle, particularly in chaps. 1–4. The second is subsequent to both letters, being, however, before Paul’s mind in 1 Corinthians 16:1-7, though his plans were subsequently modified in detail.

2. An intermediate visit, not mentioned in the Acts, is argued by many from 2 Corinthians 2:1 [“I would not come again to you in heaviness”]; 1 Corinthians 12:14; 1 Corinthians 12:21 [“the third time I am ready to come”]; 1 Corinthians 13:1-2 [“this is the third time I am coming”]. Those who, like (e.g.) Stanley, “assume that there were no visits of St. Paul to Corinth besides those mentioned” as above (1 Corinthians 2:1), join “again” in 2 Corinthians 2:1 rather with “come” than with “heaviness” [i.e. “When I should come again—a second time—it should not be with heaviness, after my first long and not unhappy stay of labour and of success”; and not, “When I should come, it should not again be with heaviness, a second sad visit”]. Also they minimise the force of “third,” in 1 Corinthians 12:14, by emphasising “I am ready to come” [i.e. counting

(1) Acts 18:0, when he was ready, and did actually come;

(2) when he was ready, but he did not come (“according to the plan mentioned in 2 Corinthians 1:15-16”);

(3) when he was now again ready, and did actually come as in (p)]. On the other side, if “again in heaviness” be very closely connected together, it is urged that the visit of Acts 18:1[(a)—(f)] by no means satisfies the frequent expressions of its grief and deep humiliation to himself, [“Are these my converts? Is this the kind of work which after all I have alone been able to accomplish?”]; that the reading in all the Uncials (as R.V. Greek text) does so join “come” with “in heaviness”; that 2 Corinthians 13:2 (where “I write” disappears in all best manuscripts) requires the translation (R.V.) “when I was,” and not (A. V.) “as if I were.” Paley discredits a second, intermediate visit; Conybeare and Howson maintain it. Waite (in Speaker, 2 Cor., Introd.) claims that the intermediate visit “is now generally admitted.” The better critical texts of to-day perhaps tell more in favour of it; but certainty is unattainable, and the matter is rather of interest for the Bible-class than for the pulpit. Certainly constant intercourse by sea, comparable (C. and II.) to that between New York and Liverpool, was going on between the two flourishing commercial centres of Corinth and Ephesus.

3. A visit intended and announced by Paul, but not paid, is implied in 2 Corinthians 1:23. The change of plan occasioned the malicious suggestions as to his whole character and his motives in the change, against which he protests in chap. 1. What the change was is incidentally explained in 1 Corinthians 16:7. Earlier than the writing of the First Epistle he had intended (and announced to them somehow [query in a lost epistle? See below]) that he would visit Corinth on his way (v. 7) from Ephesus to Macedonia [i.e. to have left Ephesus earlier than he actually did, in (o), and to have gone to Macedonia viâ Corinth]. In point of fact, as he tells them, by the time the First Epistle was ready, he had made up his mind not thus to see them “by the way” and in passing, but rather to come to them later on. His work in Ephesus urgently demanded him; he could not leave it; and therefore he would not come until, having first been to Macedonia, he could stay longer with them, and perhaps even “winter” with them; as, in fact, he did in (p). This longer visit he had all along purposed to make in any case; he would have returned from Macedonia, to Corinth for it; it would have been, counting the (omitted) flying visit, “a second benefit” (2 Corinthians 1:15-16). It is the visit (p) in the Synopsis. The intended but omitted visit, therefore, falls of course into the three years at Ephesus, (j)—(m).

The preacher may notice how many reasons concurred in inducing Paul to forego this intermediate brief visit to Corinth on the way to Macedonia. In the First Epistle, as was said above, he speaks of the need of remaining longer in Ephesus because of the “open door” and the “many adversaries” (1 Corinthians 16:0). But in 2 Corinthians 1:23 he solemnly declares that his deepest reason was that he might not “as yet” be obliged to take in hand the grave wrong-doing at Corinth, and use his Apostolic authority in sharp, severe punishment. That Ephesus needed the time which a visit to Corinth would have occupied was true, and was all he needed to say in his First Epistle. Such “policy” was “honesty.” He does not say outright all that is true; there was no need to do so. All that he says, however, is true, and the suppression of the deeper, concurrent reason had in it no attempt to mislead. Then, further, the change of his plan of route, by leaving open at least a few weeks’ margin for an improvement at Corinth, promised to spare himself a visit of distress, whether a second of that character or not (2 Corinthians 2:1). And, once more, “to this end also did I write,” rather than carry out his original purpose to come en route to Macedonia, that he might see whether, not so much his Apostolic authority over them, but their grateful love to him, would secure submission to his directions in the First Epistle (ib., ver. 9). There was no “lightness,” no fickleness or infirmity of purpose, in the change of plan (2 Corinthians 1:17). Still less was there any insincerity in it; as he protests, God knew him better than that, and surely they also knew him better (2 Corinthians 1:12-14). And we may add that in adducing now one reason and now another, all perfectly consistent, and each one perfectly good and sufficient, there is nothing inconsistent with the most transparent simplicity of Christian trust. Says Jeremy Taylor, not remotely from such a question of Christian morals: “In every more solemn action of Religion join together many good ends that … when any one ceases, the purity of your intention may be supported by another purpose,” though we may hardly go so far as to say with him that, “Certain it is, the more good ends are designed by an action, the more degrees of excellency the man obtains.” (Holy Living, Chap. I., § ii., rule 6.) Paul’s action was misconstrued, perhaps in part wilfully, and was misrepresented. Said the disloyal to the loyal ones “of Paul,” “See your valorous apostle. There is no dependence upon his word. He cries ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ in a breath. He knew what a storm his letter would arouse, and he dared not face it. So he puts forth some fine story about his work at Ephesus being so urgent that he cannot now come to us until he comes to winter with us!” Says Taylor again: “It is likely our hearts are pure and our intentions spotless, when we are not solicitous of the opinion and censures of men; but only that we do our duty and be accepted of God. For our eyes will certainly be fixed there from whence we expect our reward; and if we desire that God should approve us, it is a sign that we do His work and expect Him our paymaster.” All which assurance Paul claims to have had (2 Corinthians 1:12; 2 Corinthians 2:17; 2 Corinthians 5:9-12; 1 Corinthians 4:3).


1. Was there an epistle now lost?—Stanley, in continuation of the sentence quoted above, II. 2, adds, “[It is assumed throughout these pages that there were] no Epistles except the two now extant in the New Testament.” Many, on the other hand (e.g. Conybeare and Howson), read 1 Corinthians 5:9, compared with ver. 11, as speaking of an epistle earlier than the extant “First,” of which in this particular point a sentence had been misunderstood, and is now in ver. 11 explained and made more definitely clear. This letter is generally, if accepted at all, placed shortly after Paul’s return to Ephesus from the (inferred) brief visit, discussed above, II.

2. It is urged that just as 2 Corinthians 7:8 manifestly refers to our “First” Epistle, and just as 2 Corinthians 2:2; 2 Corinthians 2:9 also plainly refer to it, and are not—cannot be—instances of the epistolary aorist, so it is most natural to take 1 Corinthians 5:9 to refer to an earlier letter; and that indeed there is hardly anything in 1 Corinthians 1:1 to 1 Corinthians 5:8 to which the sense will, with any naturalness, allow Paul to be making any back reference. Even Stanley only suggests that Paul intended his directions, given in v. 1–8, about “purging out the old leaven,” to carry the sense which ver. 9 puts into plain words; and supposes a possible pause in the writing of the letter at ver. 8, so that either a new amanuensis, or the old one resuming his work, begins, “I have written in the epistle,” etc. A letter not now extant, and possibly shorter, seems most natural. Its loss need not surprise, or cause any difficulty. The matter of the extant Bible is confessedly based in many places upon a larger mass of material which has not been preserved. For example, the regal histories in the Old Testament are distinctly extracted from the larger, official, perhaps daily, records of the kings of Judah and Israel. John’s Gospel, in an easily understood hyperbole, confesses that “the world could not contain” a complete and exhaustive record of the sayings and doings of Christ (John 20:30-31). But the extant Bible is not a chance survival, a collection of the relics of a lost literature. John’s concluding words carry a key-principle: “These things—selected from so many more—are written that ye might believe,” etc. The Bible is an ordered, orderly selection, with a purpose. The Book is a Divinely authentic account of the revelation of God’s redemption in Christ for fallen mankind, and of its historical unfolding. Biography and history are written with that purpose in view. What shall be included, what shall be omitted, is all regulated by the requirements of that purpose; the scale on which what is included shall be treated, whether dismissed in a “verse” or expanded into a chapter, depends on that. Men and events are important or unimportant, according to the measure of their serviceableness to the work of bringing onward God’s redemption. What is here is all wanted for that; what is not here might have been very interesting in many other points of view, but it was not wanted for this; for God’s purpose it did not matter. [Duplicate, parallel books, such as Kings and Chronicles, chapters of names like Romans 16:0, every smallest “minor” prophet, have valuable bearing upon at least the credentials of a revelation which is historical in fact and in form.] So too the lost epistle does not leave us really “losers,” except in the sense that a curious piece of ancient epistolary literature has perished; it contained nothing which is not permanently and fully preserved for us in the extant Epistles. Moreover, Paul is quite conscious of the value of anything he writes (1 Corinthians 14:37; 1 Thessalonians 5:27, etc.), and would almost certainly guide a Church in such close connection with himself as Corinth was, in regard to the preservation and the relative worth of his letters.

2. The two extant Epistles can be located in the history within very narrow limits; the Second, indeed, very precisely. As to the First:—

(1) Paul is in “Asia” (1 Corinthians 16:19), in Ephesus (1 Corinthians 16:8; with the highest degree of probability). Therefore it falls within (j)—(n).

(2) Apollos is back again in Ephesus (1 Corinthians 16:12), after a visit to Corinth, which Acts 18:27-28; Acts 19:1 give the impression was a fairly long one. Not earlier, then, than (k).

(3) Nor later than (m), where, as in the First Epistle, Paul is planning his Macedonian visit. Indeed, if the sending of Timothy, mentioned in the Epistle (1 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Corinthians 16:10), be identical with that of Acts 19:22, we almost certainly locate the First Epistle at the point of time in this last verse.

(Note: Timothy and Erastus are said to be sent forward only “into Macedonia,” and in the Epistle (1 Corinthians 16:10) Paul expresses doubt whether Timothy will come so far as Corinth.) Working backward from one of the two fixed points in the chronology of the Acts, the removal of Felix from the governorship, A.D. 60, we are brought to 57 or 58 as the year; before Pentecost (1 Corinthians 16:8); possibly (1 Corinthians 5:7, but this is very precarious) about Passover-tide.

As to the Second:—Plainly Paul is in Macedonia, having quitted Ephesus, and even Troas, in his anxiety to meet Titus at the earliest passible moment, and to hear his news from Corinth as to the reception and effect of the First Epistle. This latter, then, belongs to (o), Acts 20:1.

IV. The occasion of the First Epistle lies upon the very surface of the letter. From members of the household of Chloe—whether residents in Corinth or in Ephesus is entirely uncertain, but in all probability having just come across from Corinth—he has heard of the factions, and perhaps of the shameful sin (v. 1). Also Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus have recently arrived from Corinth, [perhaps bringing gifts toward his support, but at all events] by their coming and their attentions to Paul, doing the Corinthian Church the service, and giving Paul the comfort, of a personal kindness which the Church could only thus show by its representatives (1 Corinthians 16:17). They probably have brought a letter of inquiry upon several specific topics (1 Corinthians 7:1). They perhaps returned with Titus, when he bore the First Epistle to Corinth.

The occasion of the Second is also manifest. In Macedonia [during (o) of the Synopsis] Paul has met Titus with news from Corinth, of mingled character, though on the whole good. For the most part the Church has obeyed the directions of the First Epistle. The incestuous man is penitent, and may well be restored to fellowship. But a perverse party still holds out in Corinth, who misconstrue his change of route and misrepresent himself. Personal vindication, mingled with overflowings of thankful relief, together with fuller and additional directions upon sundry matters, particularly the Jerusalem Poor Relief Fund Collection, which he just now is pushing wherever he goes, make up this letter, the most vividly personal of all his extant ones, revealing the man Paul as no other does.

[The verb “to boast” occurs twenty-nine times (Conybeare and Howson) in the Second Epistle, and only twenty-six times in all his other Epistles together—an incidental touch of the fulness of personal feeling manifested in it. Nowhere more clearly than here does the human element in an inspired writing meet us. Yet the teaching bears repeated and, so to speak, microscopic examination age after age, and age after age it bears applying to the new needs and questions of the life of the Church and the individual. Paul claims for what he writes a value and authority higher than any which any holiest or wisest man could naturally claim (1 Corinthians 14:37); he claims to speak and write like an ancient prophet (1 Thessalonians 4:15).]

[In the First Epistle the Church, in the Second Epistle the Apostle, give a distinctive character to these two vividly personal and unchallenged Epistles. The question as to the integrity of the Second, raised in connection with the change of tone at 1 Corinthians 10:1, is, so far as the preacher needs, discussed at that place.]

V. Too much should not be made of the well-known proverbial character of Corinth for elaborate, costly licentiousness. (Horace’s rendering of the Greek saying: “It is not given to every man to take his pleasure at Corinth”; the verb “to Corinthianise.”) Strictly this belonged to the old Greek city, which was so completely destroyed by fire at the Roman capture by Memmius, B.C. 146, that (to borrow from Bishop Ellicott) “for a hundred years it lay in utter ruins, [like Chester and some other Roman towns in Britain until reoccupied by the Saxon invaders]; all the works of art which could be moved were carried away, and the greater part even of the temples overthrown and destroyed. Thus it remained till the year B.C. 46, when, for political reasons. Julius Cæsar determined to rebuild the ruined city. A large number of Roman colonists, principally veteran soldiers and freedmen (1 Corinthians 7:22), were sent there. Inhabitants from the neighbouring territories, heretofore forbidden to settle there, speedily flocked in; the relics of the ancient city were conserved; what remained of the public buildings were restored; and [as was sooner or later inevitable with a city so favourably situated between two busy seas], Roman Corinth, the Corinth of this [First] Epistle, rapidly rose to eminence and prosperity, and by the time Paul visited it was probably a busy city of a hundred thousand souls. The institutions were Roman, and, according to some writers, the language also; but however this may have been in the courts or in public documents, it is not very easily conceivable that the current language of the city was other than that in which St. Paul addressed his Christian converts. Indeed, it may probably be correctly said that Greek art, Greek culture, and, alas, Greek license and sensuality, were now predominant in the restored city, and that Roman Corinth had in many things reverted to the usages of the Corinth of the past. Though all the revolting immorality to which Strabo alludes must have belonged to an earlier period, yet it is perfectly clear from this Epistle that much of it had revived, and that the worship of Aphrodite, to whom the whole mountain against which the city rested was dedicated, was among the most baneful of the idolatries of the restored city.” It had all the customary vice which unhappily belongs everywhere to great seaports, to which resort a constantly fresh succession of sailors, merchants, visitors, from every part of the world. One may suppose, too, that all the secularity of tone and temper which is so commonly intensified by the keen struggle of business in such great commercial centres, was also prevalent, with its accompanying feverish, restless activity of a life, dulled in its finer sensitiveness to wrong and right, easily satisfied with an average, conventional standard, and yet more easily satisfied, not to say enslaved, with the immediate good of the passing time (2 Corinthians 4:18; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31). [Robertson’s Introductory Lecture very fine on these points.] “The study of philosophy” (to quote Bishop Ellicott further) “had also obviously revived. It was in no way likely that the now prosperous Corinth would not, to some considerable extent, have sought to maintain that culture which still kept up the neighbouring city of Athens as a sort of University of the ancient world.” [On these points, see Homilies on 1 Corinthians 2:4; 1 Corinthians 3:11 sqq., etc.]

VI. To those who use this Book.—This is designed to be a book of material, and that for homiletic purposes. Everything has been dealt with subject to that one consideration. The “Critical Notes” are simply and only such notes, gathered from all available sources, as I judge a preacher would make when laying the foundation of a sermon, or in preparing for a Bible-class or week-night lecture. No topic is discussed or followed out any further than seemed likely to be serviceable for a preacher’s purposes. The plan of the Series requires that the material of the book should have something of homiletical form. But for the most part it is homiletic material; a quarry where nearly everything wants “getting” and working, though, no doubt, with a little skill, the quarryman who knows his business may easily detach blocks which will want very little shaping. It will be a very legitimate and happy serviceableness for the book, if, to an overworked preacher, whose mind seems effete and past originating anything, or to a hurried Sunday-school worker driven into a corner on a Saturday night, it should chance to do the turn of such a conversation or discussion with a friend as often starts the sluggard mind into activity again; or if now and again somebody, blamelessly pressed for time, finds his steel strike from one of these flints a spark which kindles his dull tinder into a cheerful and useful blaze. If some of the material seems fetched from very far—particularly what is thus marked [ ]—let it be remembered how variously men’s minds work, in what different ways suggestions arise, at what unexpected places—for example, in a conversation—different listeners will “take hold.” One man’s steel will strike fire from a flint which will be of no use to his neighbour. There are therefore plenty of flints provided, and some tinder—very slight stuff! Each man brings his own steel.

N. B.—The Homiletical Suggestions marked [J. L.] are from a little volume of similar hints, by John Lyth, D. D. (Elliot Stock).



Church Seasons: Christmas, 2 Corinthians 9:15. Easter, 1 Corinthians 5:7; 1 Corinthians 15:0; 1 Corinthians 15:0; 2 Corinthians 4:14. Trinity, 2 Corinthians 13:14.

Holy Communion: 1 Corinthians 5:7; 1 Corinthians 11:20.

Baptism: 1 Corinthians 1:14.

Missions to Heathen: 1 Corinthians 1:23; 2 Corinthians 10:14-16.

Special: Ordination, and to Ministers,1 Corinthians 1:17; 1 Corinthians 1:17; 1 Corinthians 2:2; 1 Corinthians 3:7; 1 Corinthians 4:1-2; 1 Corinthians 9:16; 1 Corinthians 9:27; 2 Corinthians 2:16; 2 Corinthians 3:4-11; 2 Corinthians 3:6; 2 Corinthians 9:2; 2 Corinthians 9:7; 2 Corinthians 11:2. Workers, 1 Corinthians 3:13; 2 Corinthians 10:0; 2 Corinthians 10:0. Evangelistic, 1 Corinthians 6:20; 2 Corinthians 5:17; 2 Corinthians 5:20-21; 2 Corinthians 6:2; 2 Corinthians 8:9. Pastoral Aid, 1 Corinthians 9:1-14. Temperance, 1 Corinthians 8:13; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; 1 Corinthians 10:23. Young People, 1 Corinthians 13:11; 1 Corinthians 15:33. Marriage, 1 Corinthians 7:0; 1 Corinthians 11:11. Funeral, 1 Corinthians 15:6; 1 Corinthians 15:50-54. Almsgiving, 1 Corinthians 16:1-2; 2 Corinthians 8:12; 2 Corinthians 9:0; 2 Corinthians 9:0.

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