- Prologue (1:1-9)
- Dealing with factions (1:10 - 4:21)
- Church discipline (5:1 - 6:20)
- Response to the Corinthian letter (7:1 - 15:58)
- Epilogue (16:1-24)
Authorship, date, and background
The Corinthian church was founded by Paul on his second missionary circuit (Acts 18:1). He was assisted in this task by Aquila and Priscilla, and later by Silas and Timothy. Paul went to Corinth from Athens were his ministry had not resulted in the founding of a church. His disappointment at Athens was softened by what happened at Corinth, where a strong and very gifted church came into being. It was largely a Gentile church, although Paul began his ministry in the synagogue and some Jews where converted. His ministry in the synagogue was brought to a halt when certain Jews appealed to Gallio the governor (proconsul)for help to stop the apostle who was persuading "men to worship God contrary to the law" (Acts 18:13). Gallio ruled in favour of Paul, who continued his evangelism in the home of Titus Justus (thought to be the Gaius of 1 Cor. 1:14 and Rom.16:23), whose house was next door to the synagogue and to which he had gone before the trial. He spent the better part of two years in the city. Paul went from Corinth o Jerusalem via Ephesus, returning there after ministering in other parts of Turkey first. He was in Ephesus when he wrote his first letter to the church at Corinth. That letter has been lost, although some scholars believe that portions of it may be included in both First and Second Corinthians. Either though a personal visit or by a letter, Paul learned from those of the household of Chloe of some of the difficulties in the Corinthian church. Later Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus (16:17) brought a letter to the apostle, in which a response to certain specific questions was requested of him. It was this combination of incidents which led to the writing of First Corinthians. It was probably written in the winter of A.D. 55 at the height of his Ephesian ministry.
Characteristics and content
Corinth is a bustling metropolis, and important commercial and maritime city. It has a vile reputation for licentiousness and immorality of all sorts. The verb "corinthianize" means "to behave as they do in Corinth." Since most of the convertd coming from this environment are unfamiliar with the Old Testament life style, they need instruction and help as they move from the ethical standards of paganism to those of the Christian life. Numerous problems beset these young believers. Thus Paul's letter addresses itself to specific difficulties in the church. The church is divided into warring functions. A case of flagrant immorality has arisen. Christians are suing each other. Marriage and divorce problems trouble the church. Paul's authority is being questioned. Food offered to idols as wells as questions about the role of women, the Lord's Supper, spiritual gifts, and speaking in tongues continually plague the congregation. Above all, the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead is under assault. Paul addresses himself to these issues and in so doing lays down guideline which remain for the instruction of the Church of Jesus Christ through the ages.
First Corinthians is marked by three outstanding segments, the absence of any one of which would leave the church markedly poorer. The first has to do with the eucharist (the Lord's Supper); here we find the earliest account of its celebration and the instruction of the apostle concerning it; the second is the great hymn of love in which Paul states that all of the other gifts of the Corinthian church shrink into insignificance if love is missing (chapter 13); and the third is the magnificent apologetic for the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, the truth or falsity which of which establishes or undercuts the foundation of the Christian faith and thus becomes a theological touchstone of evangelical orthodoxy (chapter 15).