1 and 2 Corinthians


The following subjects are discussed in the letter, after the introductory salutation (1Cor.1.1-1Cor.1.9):

1. In the first four chapters the apostle takes up the reported factionalism in the church and points out the danger and scandal of party spirit. He reminds them that Christ alone is their Master, their Christian teachers being only servants of Christ and fellow workers with God.

2. In 1Cor.5.1-1Cor.5.13 the apostle deals with a case of incestuous marriage and prescribes that the offender be put out of the church so that his soul may be saved.

3. In 1Cor.6.1-1Cor.6.20 Paul addresses their practice of bringing disputes between themselves before heathen judges for litigation. He shows that this is morally wrong and out of harmony with the spirit of love by which they as Christians should be animated. Paul also pleads with Christians to keep their bodies pure for God’s glory.

4. Various phases of the subject of marriage are considered in 1Cor.7.1-1Cor.7.40. While commending a celibate life, Paul holds marriage to be wise and honorable. He forbids Christians from getting a divorce, even if they are married to unbelievers.

5. The eating of meat offered to idols was a problem of conscience to many Christians, and 1Cor.8.1-1Cor.8.13-1Cor.10.1-1Cor.10.33 are devoted to it. Paul points out that while there is nothing inherently wrong in a Christian’s eating such food, the law of love requires that it be avoided if it will offend another who regards the eating of it as sin. He illustrates this principle of self-control in his own life: lest his motives in preaching the gospel be misunderstood, he refuses to exercise his undoubted right of looking for material aid from the church. He warns against a spirit of self-confidence and urges them to be careful not to seem to countenance idolatry.

6. Paul next takes up certain abuses in public worship: the matter of appropriate head apparel for women in their assemblies (1Cor.11.2-1Cor.11.16) and the proper observance of the Lord’s Supper (1Cor.11.17-1Cor.11.34), since there had been serious abuses in its administration.

7. There then follows a long discussion of the use and abuse of spiritual gifts, especially speaking in tongues (1Cor.11.12-1Cor.11.14). The apostle, while commending the careful exercise of all the gifts, bids them cultivate above all God’s greatest gift, love (1Cor.13.1-1Cor.13.13).

8. In 1Cor.15.1-1Cor.15.58 Paul turns to a consideration of one of the most important of their troubles—the doubt that some had concerning the resurrection of the dead. He meets the objections raised against the doctrine by showing that it is necessitated by the resurrection of Christ and that their salvation is inseparably connected with it.

9. The letter concludes with directions about the collections being made for the saints in Jerusalem, the mother church; with comments about Paul’s plans; and with personal messages to various friends.

Second Corinthians was written by Paul on his third missionary journey somewhere in Macedonia, where he had just met Titus, who had brought him a report concerning the church at Corinth.

The letter reveals that Judaizing teachers—perhaps recent arrivals from Jerusalem—had sought to discredit the apostle and had succeeded in turning the church as a whole against him. Paul was denounced as no minister of Christ at all. This revolt caused Paul to make a brief visit to Corinth in order to restore his authority (2Cor.12.14; 2Cor.13.1-2Cor.13.2), but the visit did not have its expected effect.

The report Titus brought Paul was, on the whole, most encouraging. The majority had repented of their treatment of Paul and had cast out of the church the man who had led the attack on him. Paul’s authority was acknowledged once more. Titus seems to have helped greatly in bringing about this happy change. It was the report of Titus that chiefly occasioned the writing of this letter.

Paul’s mention of a severe letter that had caused him great sorrow of heart to write (2Cor.2.3-2Cor.2.4, 2Cor.2.9; 2Cor.7.8-2Cor.7.12) has naturally caused scholars to wonder what he had in mind. Some think he refers to 1 Corinthians; others hold that this letter, like the one referred to in 1Cor.5.9, is wholly lost; while still others believe that it is preserved in 2Cor.10.1-2Cor.10.18-2Cor.13.1-2Cor.13.14, which, they say, was written by Paul at Ephesus some time after the writing of 1 Corinthians.

This second letter is the least methodical and the most personal of Paul’s writings. It is very autobiographical and falls naturally into three main divisions:

1. In 2Cor.1.1-2Cor.1.24-2Cor.7.1-2Cor.7.16 Paul, after giving thanks to God for his goodness to him in trial (2Cor.1.1-2Cor.1.11), shares some thoughts on the crisis through which the church has just passed.

2. In 2Cor.8.1-2Cor.8.24 and 2Cor.9.1-2Cor.9.15 he admonishes the Corinthians to complete the collection for the poor in Jerusalem.

3. 2Cor.10.1-2Cor.10.18-2Cor.13.1-2Cor.13.14 are a defense of Paul’s ministry against the attacks of his enemies and a vindication of his apostleship.

Bibliography: P. E. Hughes, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (NIC), 1962; J. C. Hurd, The Origin of 1 Corinthians, 1965; C. K. Barrett, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (HNTC), 1968, and The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (HNTC), 1973; F. F. Bruce, 1 and 2 Corinthians (NCB), 1971; H. Conzelmann, 1 Corinthians, 1975; W. F. Orr and J. A. Walther, 1 Corinthians (AB), 1976.——SB