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Bible Encyclopedias

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature

Corinthians Epistles to the

Corinthians, First Epistle

The testimony of Christian antiquity is unanimous in ascribing this inspired production to the pen of the Apostle Paul, and with this the internal evidence arising from allusions, undesigned coincidences, style, and tone of thought, fully accords. The epistle seems to have been occasioned partly by some intelligence received by the Apostle concerning the Corinthian church from the domestics of Chloe, a pious female connected with that church (), and, probably, also from common report; and partly by an epistle which the Corinthians themselves had addressed to the Apostle, asking advice and instruction on several points (), and which probably was conveyed to him by Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus (). Apollos, also, who succeeded the Apostle at Corinth, but who seems to have been with him at the time this epistle was written (), may have given him information of the state of things among the Christians in that city. From these sources the Apostle had become acquainted with the painful fact that since he had left Corinth () the church in that place had sunk into a state of great corruption and error. One prime source of this evil state of things, and in itself an evil of no inferior magnitude, was the existence of schisms or party divisions in the church. 'Every one of you,' Paul tells them, 'saith I am of Paul, and I of Apollos, and I of Cephas, and I of Christ' (). This has led to the conclusion that four great parties had arisen in the church, which boasted of Paul, Apollos, Peter, and Christ, as their respective heads, and various conjectures have been made respecting the peculiarities of sentiment by which these parties may be supposed to have been distinguished from each other. But serious doubts may be entertained whether there really were in the Corinthian church sects or parties specifically distinguished from each other by peculiarities of doctrinal sentiment. That erroneous doctrines were entertained by individuals in the church, and that a schismatic spirit pervaded it, cannot be questioned; but that these two stood formally connected with each other may fairly admit of doubt. Schisms often arise in churches from causes which have little or nothing to do with diversities of doctrinal sentiment among the members; and that such were the schisms which disturbed the church at Corinth appears to us probable, from the circumstance that the existence of these is condemned by the Apostle, without reference to any doctrinal errors out of which they might arise: while, on the other hand, the doctrinal errors condemned by him are denounced without reference to their having led to party strifes. From this we are inclined to the opinion that the schisms arose merely from quarrels among the Corinthians as to the comparative excellence of their respective teachers—those who had learned of Paul boasting that he excelled all others, and the converts of Apollos and Peter advancing a similar claim for them, while a fourth party haughtily repudiated all subordinate teaching, and pretended that they derived all their religious knowledge from the direct teaching of Christ. The language of the Apostle in the first four chapters, where alone he speaks directly of these schisms, and where he resolves their criminality not into their relation to false doctrine, but into their having their source in a disposition to glory in men, must be regarded as greatly favoring this view. Compare also .

Besides the schisms and the erroneous opinions which had invaded the church at Corinth, the Apostle had learned that many immoral and disorderly practices were tolerated among them, and were in some cases defended by them. A connection of a grossly incestuous character had been formed by one of the members, and gloried in by his brethren (); law-suits before heathen judges were instituted by one Christian against another (); licentious indulgence was not so firmly denounced and so carefully avoided as the purity of Christianity required (); the public meetings of the brethren were brought into disrepute by the women appearing in them unveiled (), and were disturbed by the confused and disorderly manner in which the persons possessing spiritual gifts chose to exercise them (1 Corinthians 12-14); and in fine the 'love feasts,' which were designed to be scenes of love and union, became occasions for greater contention through the selfishness of the wealthier members, who, instead of sharing in a common meal with the poorer, brought each his own repast, and partook of it by himself, often to excess, while his needy brother was left to fast (). The judgment of the Apostle had also been solicited by the Corinthians concerning the comparative advantages of the married and the celibate state (), as well as, apparently, the duty of Christians in relation to the use for food of meat which had been offered to idols (). For the correction of these errors, the remedying of these disorders, and the solution of these doubts, this epistle was written by the Apostle. It consists of four parts. The first (1 Corinthians 1-4) is designed to reclaim the Corinthian from schismatic contentions; the second (1 Corinthians 5-6) is directed against the immoralities of the Corinthians; the third (1 Corinthians 7-14) contains replies to the queries addressed to Paul by the Corinthians, and strictures upon the disorders which prevailed in their worship; and the fourth (1 Corinthians 15-16) contains an elaborate defense of the Christian doctrine of the resurrection, followed in the close of the epistle by some general instructions, intimations, and greetings.

From; , compared with; , it appears that before the writing of that epistle Paul had twice visited Corinth, and that one of these visits had been after the Church had fallen into an evil state. Did this second visit to Corinth precede also the writing of the first epistle? On this point the Acts give us no help, as the writer is totally silent concerning this second visit of Paul to Corinth. But we may safely infer from; , that Paul had not been at Corinth between the writing of the first and second epistles, so that we must place his second visit before the writing of the first epistle. When this second visit took place we can only conjecture; but Billroth's suggestion that it was made some time during the period of Paul's residence of three years at Ephesus (), perhaps on the first reception of unpleasant news from Corinth, is extremely probable. Supposing the Apostle to have made this short visit and to have returned to Ephesus, this first epistle may have been written either in that city or in Macedonia, through which Paul probably journeyed on his way from Corinth to Ephesus. This latter is the traditional opinion, and is greatly favored by the way in which Paul speaks of Ephesus () as a place in which he had been rather than one in which he was when writing this epistle. From the allusion to the Passover in , most have inferred that the epistle was written at the time of Easter; but this does not necessarily follow from the Apostle's allusion. As to the year, great diversity of opinion prevails, but most are agreed that it was not earlier than 56 nor later than 59.

The subscription above referred to intimates that this epistle was conveyed to Corinth by Stephanas, Fortunatus, Achaicus, and Timothy. As respects the last named there is evidently a mistake, for from it appears that Timothy's visiting Corinth was a thing not certain when this letter was finished, and from , it appears that Timothy did not visit Corinth till afterwards. Compare also . As respects the others, this tradition is probably correct.

Corinthians, Second Epistle

Not long after the transmission of the first epistle, the Apostle left Ephesus in consequence of the uproar excited against him by Demetrius the silversmith, and betook himself to Troas (, sq.). Here he expected to meet Titus with intelligence from Corinth of the state of things in that church. In this expectation, Paul was disappointed. He accordingly went into Macedonia, where, at length, his desire was gratified, and the wished-for information obtained (; , sq.).

The intelligence brought by Titus concerning the church at Corinth was on the whole favorable. The censures of the former epistle had produced in their minds a godly sorrow, had awakened in them a regard to the proper discipline of the church, and had led to the exclusion from their fellowship of the incestuous person. This had so wrought on the mind of the latter that he had repented of his evil courses, and showed such contrition that the Apostle now pities him, and exhorts the church to restore him to their communion (; , sq.) A cordial response had also been given to the appeal that had been made on behalf of the saints in Palestine (). But with all these pleasing symptoms there were some of a painful kind. The anti-Pauline influence in the church had increased, or at least had become more active; and those who were actuated by it had been seeking by all means to overturn the authority of the Apostle, and discredit his claims as an ambassador of Christ.

This intelligence led the Apostle to compose his second epistle, in which the language of commendation and love is mingled with that of censure, and even of threatening. This epistle may be divided into three sections. In the first (2 Corinthians 1-3) the Apostle chiefly dwells on the effects produced by his first epistle and the matters therewith connected. In the second (2 Corinthians 4-9) he discourses on the substance and effects of the religion which he proclaimed, and turns from this to an appeal on behalf of the claims of the poor saints on their liberality. And in the third (2 Corinthians 10-13), he vindicates his own dignity and authority as an apostle against the parties by whom these were opposed.





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Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Corinthians Epistles to the'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature".

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