Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth is a wonderful letter bursting full of great stuff that is so relevant for the Christian life today!
Of course, you don’t need to know anything about Corinth, the Corinthian church, or even Paul, to be able to understand this book. The very nature of God’s word means anyone can open their Bible and read it, without needing any extra or special knowledge. Having said that, it is sometimes useful and interesting for us to know a little about who is writing and who he is writing to.
Paul, once a persecutor of Christians known as Saul (Acts 8:1-3), has undergone a miraculous conversion after he was visited by Jesus (Acts 9) and has now been sent out by Jesus himself to preach the Gospel (Gal. 1:1). That is why Paul is an Apostle. On his first visit to Corinth Paul had already spent quite some time preaching and helping to build the church there (Acts 18) before moving on, and now he’s writing to them.
Corinth was a city state located on a narrow strip of land (7-miles across) in Greece. In the ancient world it was known for being a deeply immoral place – the term ‘corinthian’ was used to describe someone who was immoral! Even Homer, the Ancient Greek writer, used the term in that way. This all came to an end in around 115BC when the Romans, who were fed up with Corinth, destroyed the city completely. Around 100 years later Julius Caesar rebuilt the city as a Roman colony, where people from all over the Roman Empire were settled. This meant Corinth was a real international city – it was full of different cultures, different ideas, different competing philosophies. It really was an international city – much like London.
The city was located in a strategically vital place – it had two ports (Lechaeum & Cenchreae) located on both the north and south coasts. This meant that trade ships passing between Europe and Asia used the ports and passed through Corinth as they transported their cargo over the small, seven mile, strip of land in order to save days of sailing. This ultimately led to Corinth becoming a very wealthy place.
Corinth, therefore, was an international and very wealthy place full of different cultures, philosophies and ideas about life and morality. This means that when Paul writes to the Christians in Corinth what he’s really addressing is: ‘what does it mean to be a Christian in that sort of context?’ ‘What does it look like to be a Christian when there are so many external pressures?’ And so in this letter Paul addresses some of the deepest issues – church unity, wisdom, marriage, human sexuality, what type of food we eat, how to worship, and, of course, what to believe.
Join us over the next few weeks as we work though this letter together (Monday to Friday) – starting tomorrow when we’ll be looking at chapter 1.