New Testament Survey: Acts to Revelation - Lesson 23

Corinthians - Introduction

Most people agree that Paul wrote both letters to the Corinthians. He answered questions from people in the Corinthian church and addressed problems that had arisen.

Robert Stein
New Testament Survey: Acts to Revelation
Lesson 23
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Corinthians - Introduction

Lesson Twenty-three: Corinthians

Part 1

I. Introduction

A. Authorship

1. Evident that Paul wrote the two letters

2. Integrity is questioned

3. May have been written over a period of time.

B. Occasion

1. Addressing questions

2. Internal problems in the church

3. Some members on a higher spiritual plane

  • Acts was written by the same person that wrote the Gospel of Luke and continues where Luke left off with the resurrection and ascension of Jesus.

  • Luke wrote as a historian and includes details related to geography, political leaders and navigational terms. He was also an eyewitness and acquainted with eyewitnesses of events recorded in Acts.

  • Luke's purpose in writing Acts was give an orderly historical account of events surrounding Christ's ascension, the first followers of Christ and the spread of the early Church.

  • Acts 1:8 is the theme verse for the whole book. The structure of the book of Acts shows how this theme was fulfilled by recording events relating the spread of the gospel geographically.

  • At first, the early Church was made up mostly of Jews who continued to live a Jewish lifestyle.

  • Two events in the early Church were the choosing of an apostle to take the place of Judas Iscariot, and the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.

  • The elements of conversion in the New Testament are repentance, faith, confession, regeneration and baptism.

  • Many of the early Christians spoke Greek and Aramaic. Stephen was one of the first deacons and was martyred for his faith.

  • The apostle Paul's background as a Jew, training as a Pharisee, and Roman citizenship had a significant influence in his ministry and writings.

  • Paul had a dramatic conversion experience as he was traveling on the road to Damascus.

  • After Paul's conversion, on some areas of his theology his positions stayed the same, and on some areas his positions changed dramatically.

  • Many of the events related to Paul's life and ministry are recorded in the book of Acts.

  • The conversion of Cornelius and Peter's vision were important events in emphasizing the inclusion of Gentiles into the early Church.

  • The church at Antioch sent out Paul, Barnabas and John Mark to preach the gospel. This was Paul's first missionary journey.

  • The Jerusalem Council was a meeting of the early Church leaders to decide how to include Gentiles Christians into what had, up to this point, been a predominantly Jewish Christian group.

  • Barnabas and John Mark went to Cyprus and Paul and Silas went through Asia Minor, then to Macedonia and Greece.

  • Some of the letters from Paul in the New Testament are to an individual and some are to congregations. The letters are written in a form that includes the same general elements in the same order.

  • A main theme of 1 Thessalonians is the second coming of Christ.

  • Paul addresses some issues regarding the second coming of Christ, such as being responsible to work and support yourself in the meantime.

  • On his third missionary journey, Paul spent most of his time in Ephesus.

  • Paul defends his apostleship and explains that the foundation of our relationship with God is based on faith, not works.

  • Paul begins by defending his apostleship. He then explains justification by faith and gives some ethical exhortations. (The lecture does not cover points C. Ethical Exhortations (5:1-6:10) and D. Conclusion (6:11-18), but we included the outline points for your benefit.)

  • Most people agree that Paul wrote both letters to the Corinthians. He answered questions from people in the Corinthian church and addressed problems that had arisen.

  • In 1 Corinthians, Paul emphasizes unity and diversity in the body of Christ, and responds to questions about marriage, spiritual gifts and the Lord's Supper.

  • Paul defends his actions and apostleship and encourages the people in the church in Corinth to contribute to his collection for the poor in Jerusalem.

  • The content of Paul's letter to the church in Rome was shaped by the ethnic background of the congregation and the challenges they were facing at that time.

  • The outline of Paul's letter to the Romans indicates his understanding of the fundamental concepts of the gospel.

  • Paul wrote Romans from the perspective of his calling as the Apostle to the Gentiles.

  • Paul begins Romans by stating the problem of sin and enumerating a few specific sins. His conclusion in chapter 3 is that both the Jews and the Gentiles are under the wrath of God.

  • The divine remedy to the problem of sin and separation from God is justification by a righteous God.

  • The results of God's righteousness include, peace, hope, freedom, living in the Spirit and assurance.

  • Paul was arrested in the Temple in Jerusalem, went on trial in Caesarea, and was transported to Rome and imprisoned awaiting trial before Caesar.

  • A major theme in the book of Philippians is joy in times of adversity.

  • In Colossians, Paul emphasizes the preeminence and supremacy of Christ.

  • Imperative is always based on the indicative.

  • Most scholars agree that Ephesians was written by the apostle Paul, partly because the content follows an outline that is similar to other letters attributed to him that are contained in the New Testament.

  • In Ephesians, Paul emphasizes who we are in Christ and the mystery of the gospel.

  • Paul writes to Philemon about how Philemon should receive his runaway slave Onesimus, who has become a committed disciple of Christ under Paul's influence and is returning to him.

  • Luke does not record the details of Paul's death in the book of Acts.

  • The best argument is for Pauline authorship, possibly with the help of a secretary.

  • Two themes in 1 Timothy are the role and requirements for bishops and elders, and the role of women in ministry.

  • Paul gives instructions to Titus who is a pastor in Crete.

  • Paul gives instruction to Timothy, who is a young pastor.

  • It is unclear who wrote the book of Hebrews.

  • A major theme in Hebrews is the supremacy of Christ. There are also passages that emphasize that perseverance is essential.

  • According to James, true faith results in works.

  • The apostle Peter wrote this letter to encourage Christians to be faithful during a time of suffering.

  • Themes in 1 Peter include the atonement, the new birth and the continuity of the Old and New Testaments.

  • Some people question whether or not 2 Peter was written by the apostle Peter.

  • Themes in 2 Peter include false teachers and the return of the Lord.

  • 1 John is similar to the Gospel of John in style, vocabulary, theology and purpose.

  • John makes a distinction between acts of sin and continuing in sin.

  • Jesus came as God in the flesh and offers us the gift of eternal life.

  • Revelation is a book written in an apocalyptic genre by the apostle John.

  • The philosphy of interepretation you use when you study the book of Revelation determines what you think specific passages in the book are teaching.

  • Chapters 1-12 begins with the seven churches, and includes the seven seals and seven trumpets.

  • Revelation chapters 13-22 focus on the beast, Christ's final victory, final judgment and the millenium.

  • After Christ ascended and the church was spreading, it was helpful to have a written record of Christ's life and the apostles' teaching. All the books included in the New Testament were written before the end of the first century.

  • Each book included in the New Testament had to meet specific criteria. They are arranged with the Gospels first, then letters, then the book of Revelation.

In this second graduate-level class on New Testament Survey, Dr. Robert Stein walks you through the New Testament books Acts through Revelation. In his analysis of the books, you will learn not only the facts but also be challenged with their theological and spiritual significance.


We want to look today at the Corinthian correspondence, and I use that term because there are more than two letters that we have to talk about. During the second missionary journey, the apostle Paul according to Acts 18 came to the city of Corinth, and there he stayed according to Acts 18:11 [eighteen] months, “And, he [Paul] stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.” And then when we go to 18:18, after this, Paul stayed many days longer, so that we have a 2½-year, 3-year stay at the church at Corinth, much like the later stay at the church at Ephesus during the third missionary journey.

Now with regard to the correspondence Paul wrote to Corinth, in 1 Corinthians 5:9, he refers to a letter, “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with immoral men – not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.” Now that could be what we call in epistolary aorist [tense], in which he uses the past tense to refer to the letter he is presently writing, but when they read it, it will have been written. However, that’s not the content of 1 Corinthians. 1 Corinthians doesn’t seem to deal with that subject. So it looks like he’s referring to a letter previous to what we would call 1 Corinthians. If we want to call that [previous letter] 1 Corinthians, and call our 1 Corinthians ‘2 Corinthians’, or our 2 Corinthians ‘4 Corinthians’, that could cause all sorts of confusion. So instead, we’ll refer to this first letter that he refers to in 1 Corinthians 5:9 as ½ Corinthians. That allows us to keep 1 Corinthians, 1 Corinthians. Needless to say, there’s no “half” of the letter that he wrote, but we will refer to this earlier letter mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5:9, as ½ Corinthians, so that we can leave our present letter which is called 1 Corinthians as 1 Corinthians.

In the second letter he wrote, he refers to things there, in 2 Corinthians 2:3-4, for instance, he says, “And I wrote [past tense again] as I did so that when I come I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice, for I feel sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all. For I wrote out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love I have for you.” In verse 9 he says, “This is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything.” And then in 7:8, he refers again to a letter, “For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that the letter grieved you, though only for a while.” Now, this is a harsh painful letter that he’s written, and that doesn’t seem to be 1 Corinthians, either. So it looks like after writing 1 Corinthians, he wrote some other harsh letter in which he rebuked the church, and we will call that 1½ Corinthians. And then we have 2 Corinthians. So we have our 1 and 2 Corinthians, and then before each of those there seems to have been another letter that Paul had written.

The authorship of 1 and 2 Corinthians is really not disputed. Only some crazies out there might argue that Paul didn’t write one of these letters, or something like that. But anybody, even radical critics that are still living on our present planet, will acknowledge that these two letters, Paul certainly wrote, along with Romans and Galatians. No one would ever dispute those (although of course, we have people who have in the past).

The question of the authorship of these letters is not disputed. But the question of the integrity of 2 Corinthians is. We’re not talking about moral integrity; we’re saying, “Is 2 Corinthians as we have it now a letter that Paul wrote just as is, or is it an amalgam of several letters that Paul may have written to the Corinthians?” In other words, is 2 Corinthians made up of not only what he wrote in 2 Corinthians, but also parts of ½ Corinthians and 1½ Corinthians? For instance, some people will argue that 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 was that letter where Paul said not to deal with immoral people. And that 2 Corinthians 10:1-13:10 is that harsh letter, 1½ Corinthians. And that what we call 2 Corinthians is made up of 1:1-6:13, 7:2-9:15, 13:11-14 (that’s the original 2 Corinthians). So that according to this, everything that we have in 2 Corinthians is Pauline – Paul wrote it. But he didn’t write it as a single letter; it’s an amalgam of three letters.

That would not be much of a problem for inspiration, since it’s all Pauline. But the real problem is: what happened to the rest of these fragmented letters? Why were these fragments saved, and not other parts? It’s very hard to explain why, if Paul had written ½ Corinthians and 1½ Corinthians, only parts of it were saved and put into 2 Corinthians. There are times when 2 Corinthians looks like there is a real break. For instance in 2 Corinthians 6:13, we have a rather sharp break between that and with verse 14. And if you go then to chapter 9, 9:15 seems to end, “ …thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift.” And then you have a rather difficult, harsh kind of letter coming in 10:1 – 13:10. And you wonder, “Why these changes?”

When Paul wrote these letters, did he do it at one sitting? In other words, was all of 2 Corinthians dictated at the same time? That would not be an easy thing to do, because you have to wait for your scribe to write this down. Or, are these larger letters maybe a project that took a period of time that he wrote through? Things came up, and that pen was laid down. The amanuensis or scribe that wrote it had to leave, or Paul had to do something, and there might be a time gap. And if there’s a time gap, maybe some additional news comes up, and something that bothers Paul and he needs to deal with a rebuke all of the sudden, even though the previous issue was not rebuke material. I think we have to allow for these letters to be written over a period of time with interruptions in them. And maybe the breaks that we see that seem to be clear as you read them consecutively at one sitting would not be as apparent if you were dictating them to a secretary at various installments. So, again, the main issue is not of authorship; it’s a matter of the integrity of the letter.

For the occasion of the letter (1 Corinthians), Paul is in Ephesus. He says that explicitly in the letter. In 16:5, he starts talking about plans, “…after passing through Macedonia, for I intend to pass through Macedonia, and perhaps I will stay with you.” So he’s in Asia, western Turkey. He’s talking about a time to go over across the sea to what we call northern Greece, or Macedonia, and visit them. And in verse 8, he says, “But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost.” He’s going to stay here in Ephesus. So he’s writing the letter from Ephesus, and it will probably go via messenger, who may go directly by ship across the Aegean Sea to the Isthmus of Corinth, or they may have a longer journey by visiting the churches in Macedonia and working their way down. But Paul is in Ephesus as he writes the letter.

He writes the letter for a number of reasons. For one, the church has written him, and asks for information about certain issues. This is most clear in 7:1, “Concerning which things you wrote ….” They wrote a letter for advice. And so Paul is now answering that, and he says, “Concerning the things which you wrote ….” He’s going to keep on using that “concerning”, but not filling out “concerning which things you wrote”. For instance, he goes on with that issue in 7:1 (a marriage issue), and then in 7:25, “Now, concerning the unmarried …,” to deal with people who are not married. Then he goes on in 8:1, “Now concerning food offered to idols …,” they had raised a question as to whether it’s alright to eat food that’s been dedicated to idols, and Paul wrestles with that issue in the church. In 12:1, another issue has come up that they ask him about, and he has another introduction. It tells us he’s now dealing with the matters that they have written to him about, “Now, concerning spiritual gifts, brethren …” and he deals with that issue. Then finally in 16:1, another question they have raised involved the offering that is being collected for the poor in Jerusalem, “Now concerning the contribution for the saints ….” So now instead of “Now, concerning which things you wrote me”, he then repeats “now concerning [this]”, “now concerning [that]”, “now concerning [this]”, “now concerning [that]”, and he deals with specific issues that the church in Corinth has asked him to comment on.

He also writes, however, because he has learned things. In 1 Corinthians 1:11, he’s heard a report from people from Corinth, “For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brethren.” So, he’s heard about this--some of the messengers that have come to bring him that letter have added comments. Paul may ask how things are going, and they say that Chloe and others are having some real problems in the church – divisions in the church, etc. And so he writes that way. And he refers again to messengers who have brought information to him in 16:17-18, “I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence, for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. Give recognition to such men.” So Paul asks them what’s going on, and how things are going in Corinth. They have brought him additional information. And he has heard about divisions in the church (1:12 and following, we’ll deal with that). He’s heard about immorality in the church, and he has to deal with that issue. And he’s heard about disorder at communion. They haven’t written about that, but the people who have come--Chloe’s people and these others that have brought news have informed him. So he writes of the things he’s heard there.

And he’s also heard from them that there are some people who have come to a unique stage in the Christian life. They have reached a higher level, and this has caused division as well. Some of them say they possess a unique knowledge, and in the early chapters he talks about knowledge a great deal. And so the question is, are these “knowledge” people gnostics? Gnosticism seems to have come in later, however, than when Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. Are they people who have a special spiritual gift? They feel uniquely blessed with charismatic gifts and abilities, and this is causing trouble. Some people have reinterpreted the resurrection from the dead, and think that this has already taken place (1 Corinthians 15:12), “Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” There’s no resurrection – it’s already happened. And they have reinterpreted that in some sort of a spiritual sense. So Paul, having been given a letter from the Corinthians asking to comment about certain issues, and having information from those who came from Corinth about the situation there, writes this letter.