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First Epistle to the Corinthians

CORINTHIANS, FIRST EPISTLE TO THE. First Corinthians is the second longest of the thirteen letters in the NT which bear the name of Paul; accordingly it comes next after Romans (the longest) in the traditional sequence of Pauline letters.


The Pauline authorship of 1 Corinthians is uncontested, if one excepts such eccentric schools of thought as that represented by W. C. van Manen (cf. his contribution to the article “Paul” in EBi cols. 3620ff. esp. 3626f.). With Romans, 2 Corinthians and Galatians, it belongs to the four “capital” epistles which provide the foundation of Pauline theology.


The addressees are specified as clearly as could be desired: they are the members of “the church of God which is at Corinth”—a church of Paul’s own planting—but with them are associated “all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours” (1 Cor 1:2). The word “place” (Gr. topos) prob. means “place of worship” (a sense established for Heb. māqôm) and includes Christian meetings in Achaia outside Corinth, like the church at Cenchreae, seaport of Corinth (Rom 16:1).


Corinth, situated on the isthmus of that name, at the junction of sea routes to the E and the W and of land routes to the N and S, was from ancient days one of the most important cities of Greece. In classical times it was the chief commercial and maritime rival of Athens. Because of the leading part it played in a revolt against Rome it was sacked and destroyed by L. Mummius and his army in 146 b.c., and the site lay derelict for a cent., until in 46 b.c. it was refounded by Julius Caesar as a Rom. colony with the official designation Laus Iulia Corinthus. In 27 b.c. it became the seat of administration of the Rom. province of Achaia.

The new Corinth quickly made its name in the commercial world as its predecessor had done and it quickly gained the reputation for sexual laxity that its predecessor had enjoyed. In classical Gr. the verb korinthiazesthai (“to behave as they do in Corinth”) denoted the more outrageous forms of wantonness and it was equally applicable to the new Corinth. The moral atmosphere of the city accounts for some of the temptations against which the Corinthian Christians esp. needed to be warned by Paul.

During his stay in Corinth, in spite of sustained opposition, Paul laid the foundation of a large and gifted church, including both Jewish and Gentile converts. Among the former was a synagogue ruler named Crispus (Acts 18:8; 1 Cor 1:14); among the latter was the Godfearer Titius Justus (Acts 18:7), who put his house at Paul’s disposal when he could no longer use the synagogue (which adjoined it) as his base of operations. If (as is probable) Titius Justus is to be identified with the Gaius of 1 Corinthians 1:14 and Romans 16:23, then his full name, Gaius Titius Justus, marks him as a Rom. citizen. (The citizens of a Rom. colony such as Corinth were ipso facto Rom. citizens.)

The sustained opposition to Paul’s activity in Corinth came to a peak shortly after Gallio’s arrival in the city as proconsul of Achaia. The leaders of the Jewish community brought Paul before him on the charge of propagating an illegal religion—one which, unlike Judaism, did not enjoy the sanction of Rom. law. Gallio quickly decided that what Paul preached was simply a particular version of Judaism to which his prosecutors objected, and declared that it was none of his business to arbitrate between rival interpretations of the Jewish law (Acts 18:15). His decision was in effect, though perhaps not in intention, a declaration of the benevolent neutrality of Rom. law toward the Gospel: if the Gospel was a variety of a religion sanctioned by Rom. law, then it could be propagated freely, unless it occasioned public disorder. His ruling would be followed as a precedent by magistrates elsewhere in the Rom. empire, and in fact it appears to have been accepted as such until it was reversed by imperial action in the next decade. Paul had good reason to take courage from this turn of events, and he remained in Corinth for several more months. When at last the time came for him to cross the Aegean and embark on his Ephesian ministry, he left a numerous community of Christians behind him in Corinth.

His ministry in Ephesus, however, was marked not only by troubles in that city but by troublesome news which kept coming to him from Corinth. When he referred to the daily pressure of his “anxiety for all the churches” (2 Cor 11:28), his anxiety for the Corinthian church must have made a major contribution to that burden. Quite early in his time at Ephesus he had occasion to send the Corinthian Christians a letter (1 Cor 5:9), warning them “not to associate with immoral men” (a reference to the besetting vice of Corinth). This letter is lost (the view that part of it is preserved in 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 has little to commend it, since the latter passage deals with idolatry, not immorality). Some of the Corinthians evidently misunderstood Paul to mean that they must have no dealings with pagans who were guilty of fornication and similar practices. What he really meant, as he made plain in 1 Corinthians 5:11, was that such practices must not be tolerated within the Christian brotherhood and that no Christian fellowship should be extended to anyone who indulged in them. That the “previous letter” was not as effective as could have been desired is evident from such passages as 1 Corinthians 5:1-13; 6:9-20.


Later, news came to Paul either by letter or by a personal visit from members of the household of a Corinthian lady named Chloe that party spirit was manifesting itself among his converts in Corinth, and that in some quarters of the church there the authority of Paul, its founder apostle, was being questioned. The challenge to his authority came chiefly from a group of people in the church who set much store by “wisdom” (sophia) and “knowledge” (gnōsis), in the sense which these terms had among the Hel. intelligentsia, and who assessed the Pauline gospel by these standards. Paul set himself to deal in writing with this news, and had practically finished what he had to say when fresh news arrived. This was brought by three further Corinthian visitors, Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus (16:17), who carried a letter to the apostle from the Corinthian church asking him a number of questions. In addition, they delivered by word of mouth an even more disquieting report than that which he had received from the members of Chloe’s household: the characteristic vice of Corinth had not been completely exorcized from the church—in fact, a particularly flagrant case of sexual irregularity had lately come to light—and the members of the church who had complaints against one another were instituting legal proceedings before pagan judges. Accordingly, instead of dispatching the letter which he had just dictated (chs. 1-4), Paul proceeded to dictate much more, dealing first with the serious state of the church as reported by his new visitors and then one by one with the questions raised in the Corinthians’ letter (his answer to each question is introduced by the phrase, “Now concerning”). He hoped to deal with them in greater detail when he was able to pay them a personal visit; meanwhile, he sent this letter (perhaps by the hand of Ste phanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus) and told them to expect a visit from Timothy soon after the receipt of the letter.




Paul associates one Sosthenes with himself in the superscription of the letter. It must remain uncertain whether this is Sosthenes of Acts 18:17, the ruler of the synagogue who was beaten up by the bystanders after the Jewish leaders of Corinth had been rebuffed by Gallio (see # 3). If so, he must have subsequently followed the example of his predecessor Crispus (Acts 18:8) and become a Christian. In the thanksgiving which follows the initial salutation mention is made of the Corinthian Christians’ proficiency in eloquence and knowledge and their endowment with every variety of spiritual gift. The remainder of the letter bears ample witness to their equipment in this respect, but makes plain how deficient they were in the necessary qualities of spiritual maturity and moral stability. This deficiency, however, will be dealt with later; at present Paul singled out those features for which he could sincerely thank God, and he assured them that, as they waited for the revelation of Christ at His parousia, they could rely for their establishment on their faithful God, who has called them into the fellowship of His Son (1 Cor 1:1-9).

With an appeal for unity, he proceeded at once to tackle the question of partisanship, of which Chloe’s people had informed him. It has been disputed whether three or four parties were envisaged (v. 12); those who think of three consider that “I belong to Christ” is Paul’s retort to those who claimed himself, Apollos or Cephas (Peter) as party leader. But the question, “Is Christ divided?” (v. 13), suggests that some were using His name as a party slogan. If the Paul party consisted of those who believed themselves to be following the teaching of their own apostle, the Cephas party of those who attached higher importance to the authority of Peter and the other members of the original apostolate, and the Apollos party of those who found the learning (and possibly the Alexandrian allegorical exegesis) of Apollos esp. congenial to their intellectual taste, the Christ party prob. consisted of those “for whom Christ meant something like ‘God, freedom, and immortality,’ where ‘God’ means a refined philosophical monotheism; ‘freedom’ means emancipation from the Puritanical rigors of Palestinian barbarian authorities into the wider air of self-realization; and immortality means the sound Greek doctrine as opposed to the crude Jewish notion of the Resurrection” (T. W. Manson, Studies in the Gospels and Epistles [1962], p. 207). The difference between the Paul party and the Apollos party was at most one of emphasis; but the extremes of the other two parties, representing legalism on the one side and libertinism on the other, were regarded by Paul as deadly enemies of the Gospel, and in countering them he was obliged to fight simultaneously on two fronts—a fact which must never be forgotten in the study of his Corinthian correspondence. Paul claimed that he had given no one any encouragement to name him as party leader; apart from his first half dozen converts in Corinth he had not even baptized any of them, in order to emphasize that believers are baptized into Christ, regardless of who baptizes them. His commission was to proclaim Christ as Savior and Lord of all His people, not of this or that section of them (1:10-17).

This choosing names of party leaders, like the current attachment to philosophical schools called after their various founders, might be a mark of secular wisdom but the Gospel of Christ crucified had nothing to do with secular wisdom. By the standards of secular wisdom, indeed, it was a tale of weakness and folly. Yet Corinthian believers had to acknowledge, for all their cultivation of wisdom, that this tale of weakness and folly had accomplished what the philosophical schools had failed to do: it had brought effective salvation to those who believed it. This is completely in line with God’s consistent policy of using what is weak and foolish in worldly estimation to overcome the forces of secular wisdom and might, so that His people should boast exclusively in Him, who had given them Christ Jesus as their true wisdom, their righteousness and sanctification and redemption (1:18-31).

Paul cut an unimpressive figure when he came to Corinth and his preaching lacked the graces of rhetoric. Yet its effectiveness in leading his hearers to faith in Christ proved that the power behind it was the Holy Spirit’s (2:1-5).

They might have thought his teaching elementary by contrast, perhaps, with Apollos’. Paul could indeed impart higher wisdom to those who were spiritually mature, but spiritual maturity called for charity as well as knowledge. The higher wisdom concerned God’s eternal purpose for His people; it was concealed from the supernatural powers controlling the godless world, and it was this ignorance on their part that trapped them into crucifying “the Lord of glory,” thus sealing their own fate. This divine wisdom, inaccessible apart from divine revelation (as is indicated by the poetical fragment of unknown origin quoted in 2:9), can be grasped only by spiritual men, since it concerns spiritual truth. To the “unspiritual” man—the man who, unenlightened by the Spirit of God, is left to the doubtful guidance of his own soul (whence he is called psychikos)—this higher wisdom is meaningless, if not foolishness; he lacks the spiritual capacity to understand it. It is the man endowed with the Spirit of God who has the gift of discernment and discrimination; he can appreciate the mind of God because he has received “the mind of Christ” (2:6-16).

Whatever the Corinthian Christians thought of their attainments, they were not sufficiently mature to be taught this higher wisdom; that they were still in spiritual infancy, requiring the “milk” of elementary teaching, was evident in the prevalence of party spirit among them. This might be expected in unregenerate men; it was a work of the flesh and those in whom it was found could properly be described as “carnal” (3:1-4).

Paul and Apollos, for example, were only servants of Christ, each performing the duty assigned to him. Paul sowed the seed at Corinth, Apollos then came and watered it, but it was God who made it grow. Or, to use a different figure, Paul laid the foundation and Apollos the upper courses but the building was God’s. There was no fault to be found with the foundation: Christ is the one true foundation. Those who build on that foundation should be careful about the quality of the material they use; it is not Apollos that Paul had in mind. He had no complaint to make of Apollos, but of others, who used materials quite out of keeping with the foundation stone. The Gospel Paul had given them would stand the fiery test of persecution or the more searching test of the final judgment. Would the teaching given by later visitors do the same? When a fire broke out and swept through one of those ancient cities, structures of durable material survived but wooden huts and the like went up in smoke. So the day of divine testing would reveal the kind of workmanship used for building up the Church. Good workmanship would be rewarded; faulty workmanship would be consumed. The workman’s personal salvation, since it depended on divine grace and not on his own workmanship, would not be imperiled, but he would forfeit the reward which might have been his (3:5-15).

Party strife desecrates the building of God. Paul’s readers must consider that, as a community of believers in Christ they are God’s sanctuary, in which His Spirit dwells. God will deal appropriately with anyone who harms His sanctuary. On the other hand, if they would abandon their party strife and secular wisdom, and glory in God rather than in men, they would find that Paul, Apollos, Cephas, and other servants of Christ belong to them all, not just to a few. Let those servants of Christ be accepted for what they really are: those whom Christ has commissioned to dispense His revelation to His people. Let them be assessed not in terms of their popularity but in terms of their faithfulness to Him who has commissioned them. Paul himself was not greatly concerned how men assessed him; what mattered to him was his heavenly Master’s assessment. This assessment will be made public at the Lord’s coming; any attempt at judging the Lord’s servants before that day is premature and invalid (3:5-4:5).

Paul had been using the names of himself and Apollos by way of example, but he knew that neither he nor Apollos had fostered party spirit. Any other aspirants for Christian leadership would do well to learn from these two to repudiate ambitious emulation (the phrase rendered “to live according to scripture” in 4:6 may be an abbreviated proverb whose precise force now escapes us). No teacher can impart anything that he has not received; why then should he boast as though he owed no debt to a teacher of his own? (vv. 6, 7).

It was no easy task that Paul and his fellow apostles had to discharge. They were exposed day by day to slander, persecution, destitution, danger and death. But the Corinthian Christians in their own eyes had “arrived”; they lived as though they had already entered fully into the coming glory. Paul spoke ironically, not to make them feel ashamed, but to show them the best path to follow. He was the only one among their teachers who had a father’s affection for them; they were his children in Christ. Let the children follow their father’s example. He would soon visit them in person; for the present, he would send Timothy to see them. When he himself would come, he would discover what substance there is in those who boast so loudly of their attainments and belittle his authority. It would depend on his readers whether his visit would be a happy occasion, or whether he would have to use a big stick (4:8-21).

The letter which was almost finished is resumed in ch. 5 as Paul dealt with the reports just received from Stephanas and his companions. First of all, there was a case of incest in the church which might have shocked even the tolerant society of Corinth: a man was living with his father’s wife. (Whether his father was still alive or not is uncertain, but it does not affect the issue materially.) Worse than that, some members of the church actually regarded this illicit union as a fine assertion of Christian liberty, something to take pride in. Paul did not stay to argue that this state of affairs was intolerable; he ordered them to expel the offender from their fellowship at once. Let a church meeting be held and sentence of excommunication pronounced; Paul, who had already passed this judgment on the man, would be with them in spirit, concurring in the sentence. The terms of the sentence, “to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh,” imply not merely excommunication but bodily affliction, perhaps even death—both for the vindication of the church’s good name and for the offender’s ultimate benefit: “that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (v. 5). If conduct of this kind were tolerated in the church, it would corrupt the whole fellowship as surely as a little leaven ferments the whole batch of dough. The mention of leaven reminded Paul of the festival of unleavened bread, which followed the Passover; this served as an illustration of the moral purification which should be carried out in those for whom Christ had died as the true passover Lamb (5:1-8).

When in a previous letter he told them not to associate with immoral people, he did not have pagans in mind (to avoid association with them in Corinth would involve emigration); he meant that such people must find no place within the Christian brotherhood. It is noteworthy that here as elsewhere Paul coupled greed with immorality and idolatry as a major sin meriting expulsion from the fellowship (5:9-13).

The news that some Christians at Corinth were prosecuting others in pagan law courts was shocking in Paul’s eyes. If they must have justice done, why not do as the Jews did and submit their disputes to arbitration within their own community? That would be better than laying them before men who had no status in the church. It would, however, be better still to follow their Lord’s example and endure injustice uncomplainingly. If, as Daniel 7:22 foretells, “the saints of the Most High” will one day share in executing the last judgment, are they unable to adjudicate in their own internal affairs here and now? They should be ashamed of themselves (1 Cor 6:1-8).

Addressing himself more generally to those who thought that the Gospel emancipated them from the restraints of ordinary morality, Paul insisted that there is no place in the kingdom of God for wicked people. Some of the Corinthian believers had once lived wicked lives, but they had been cleansed by Christ. They might say “All things are lawful for me,” or “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food,” as though their physical life was religiously neutral. But the body as well as the spirit had been redeemed by Christ; therefore God should be glorified in their bodily conduct. That the believer’s body, a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit, should become “one flesh” with a harlot was a logical and ethical monstrosity (6:9-20).

Turning now to the questions raised in the Corinthians’ letter, Paul dealt first with marriage and divorce. At the other extreme from the libertines addressed in the preceding paragraph were those who thought it best “for a man not to touch a woman” (7:1). Paul could agree for himself, since he found celibacy a congenial way of life, but as a practical man he recognized that marriage—strictly monogamous marriage—was the norm for Christians, and that there should be a mutual willingness between husband and wife to grant each other the rights and privileges of the conjugal state. Paul was far from sharing the foolish notion of some later Christian ascetics that sex as such is undesirable. If unmarried people and widows can without difficulty remain so, good and well; otherwise, let them marry (7:29).

As for the divorce question, the Lord’s ruling is binding on His people (cf. Mark 10:6-12); there must be no divorce on either side. There was, however, a situation not provided for in the Lord’s ruling: if a husband or wife became a Christian and the other partner to the marriage would no longer continue the relationship what then? In such a case the marriage relationship may be allowed to lapse. Better that the pagan partner should be willing to remain; in that case both the pagan partner and the children of the marriage would be “consecrated” through association with the believer, on the principle that “whatever touches the altar [or anything that is itself holy] shall become holy” (Exod 29:37). It is uncertain whether verse 16 holds out hope for the salvation of the pagan partner or not (1 Cor 7:16).

In general, there is no reason for a Christian to change the status in which he found himself at the time of his conversion—whether circumcised or uncircumcised, slave or free (7:17-24). In v. 21 “avail yourself of the opportunity” (to gain your freedom) is prob. the meaning; but the words in themselves could equally well be “make use of your present condition instead.”

It is important to mark the care with which Paul distinguishes the Lord’s unambiguous ruling (v. 10) from his own judgment (vv. 12, 25). This appears in his injunctions to the unmarried (vv. 25-38). In “the impending distress” (v. 26) Christians with family responsibilities might find it more difficult to stand uncompromisingly for the faith than those who were free from such obligations. Detachment in heart and interest from the present evanescent world order is advised. If some Christians had in their first enthusiasm undertaken vows of celibacy, or if an engaged couple had decided not to marry, and then found it desirable to marry, let them marry, says Paul; they have committed no sin (vv. 28, 36).

Similarly, it was best that widows should remain unmarried, but if they decided to remarry they were free to do so, “only in the Lord.” In matters where he had received no commandment from the Lord, Paul would only express his own mind and leave his readers to decide for themselves, but he regarded his judgment as sound judgment, “and I think,” he added, “that I have the Spirit of God” (7:39f.). Nowhere is Paul’s pastoral common sense more evident than in this chapter.

The fact that in a pagan city like Corinth most of the meat exposed for sale in the market was the flesh of animals that had been sacrificed to idols presented many converts from paganism with a problem of conscience. Should they eat such meat, or would they be infected with idol worship by doing so? The Jerusalem decree of Acts 15:29 had instructed Gentile converts not to eat such meat, but Paul appealed to two principles—Christian liberty and Christian charity. A Christian is at liberty to eat it, since it is neither better nor worse for having been dedicated to an idol, but considerations of charity toward a fellow Christian whose conscience might be damaged by his example may lead him to impose a voluntary restriction on his liberty in this regard (8:1-13).

This reference to a voluntary restriction on a Christian’s liberty reminded Paul that his own readiness to do this was an argument which his opponents used to cast doubt on the reality of his apostolic commission. The church of Corinth, wrote Paul, need have no doubt on this score; it was the Lord’s “seal” on his apostleship (9:2). For the rest, he was not at liberty to decide whether he would carry out his apostolic task or not: “necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (9:16). But he was at liberty to decide whether he would live at his converts’ expense or maintain himself, and if, unlike the Jerusalem apostles and the Lord’s brothers, he chose to forego his undoubted right and maintain himself—well, he was free to do so. He exercises his freedom by making himself slave to all for the Gospel’s sake, by being “all things to all men” with an apostolic versatility which some lesser spirits could not distinguish from inconsistency. He practiced self-discipline in order to win the prize which faithful service will receive on the day of review (9:1-27).

Reverting to the subject of idolatrous associations, he reminded his readers how the Israelites’ redemption from Egypt, their passage through the Red Sea and participation in supernatural food and drink in the wilderness did not protect them against divine judgment when they fell into idolatry and immorality (10:1-13). It is equally certain that Christians cannot escape divine judgment if they think they can conjoin the fellowship of the Lord’s Table, where they communicate in the blood and body of Christ, with fellowship at “the table of demons”—if, for example, they join in a banquet in a pagan temple under the idol’s patronage (cf. 8:10). On the other hand, there is no objection to accepting a pagan friend’s invitation and eating whatever is served at his table; but if an issue is made of food that has been dedicated to an idol, the Christian will safeguard his witness and show a helpful example to others. (Verse 29 is so difficult to construe in the context that it has been regarded as an intrusive gloss, but there is no textual evidence for this. Perhaps the two quesitons of vv. 29b, 30, should be taken as an objection to Paul’s argument, but even this is awkward.) Let Christians seek God’s glory and the blessing of others, not their own advantage—as Paul himself did, following the example of Christ (10:4-11:1).

The conduct of church meetings now received attention. Paul disapproved of the Corinthian church being a law to itself in that women prayed or prophesied with uncovered heads, departing both from current convention and from the practice of other churches. His injunction is supported by an appeal to certain ordinances, to the facts of nature, and to the unseen presence of angels at meetings of the church (11:2-16).

He disapproves still more of the unbrotherly conduct of their love feasts or fellowship meals, where, instead of sharing their food, the rich ate what they brought and left their poorer fellow Christians hungry. They might expect Paul’s commendation for their faithfulness in observing the “traditions” he had delivered to them (v. 2), but he would not commend them for this behavior any more than for their divisions and factions (11:17-22).

Apparently they celebrated the Eucharist at the end of their love feasts, but their conduct during those feasts and their condition at the end of them meant that they were in no fit state to take the Holy Supper whose significance they were denying in practice. Paul reminded them of the institution of the Supper—something that he had already “delivered” to them as he, in turn, had first “received” it (the characteristic verbs of tradition are used). This is the oldest written account of the institution, not more than twenty-five years after the event; it is perhaps the only account which reported that Jesus said, “Do remembrance of me” (vv. 24, 25). Their unbrotherly behavior was a profanation of the holy ordinance; by disregarding their obligations as fellow members of the body which was symbolized by the bread they ate, they ate and drank judgment upon themselves. No wonder that sickness and untimely death were rife among them! Let them take their ordinary meals at home, and come to the Lord’s Supper in a proper state of spiritual preparation (11:17-34).

The exercise of spiritual gifts in the church was a subject on which the Corinthians had asked for advice. Many of them were attracted by the more spectacular gifts, esp. by the gift of tongues. All spiritual gifts, said Paul, are bestowed by the Spirit, and no one speaking by His power will use derogatory words about Jesus, whereas the utterance “Jesus is Lord” is a certain token of His prompting (12:1-3).

Nine gifts of the Spirit are named, and their use is compared to the functioning of the various parts of the human body for the health of the whole. In one Spirit all believers have been baptized into one body; by that same Spirit they are all refreshed. As chaos would rule in the human body if each part tried to perform the functions of others, or all entrusted their different functions to one, chaos would rule in the church unless each member made his proper contribution to the good of the whole (12:1-31a).

Higher than all the gifts of the Spirit is the grace of heavenly love, which Paul celebrated in the following words. Christians may be talented, devoted, generous in their giving; they may be endowed with mountain removing faith; they may even have in them the stuff of which martyrs are made—but if love be absent, it is all to no profit. Above all else, love is the one thing needful. As he described love, Paul used language which might well be used of Christ, if “Christ” were put in place of “love.” Other spiritual gifts have their place for a time, but love endures for ever. Man’s present condition, in comparison with the perfection which he shall one day attain, is as childhood in comparison with the years of maturity. The things which befit the present stage of spiritual immaturity will be outgrown when believers are glorified with Christ, but love will never be outgrown. Faith, hope and love form a heavenly triad of graces which endure for ever, but love is the greatest of the three. Therefore, “make love your aim” (12:31b-14:1a).

More particular attention is now given to the exercise of certain spiritual gifts, esp. glossolalia and prophecy. On the former, Paul speaks as one who himself possesses the gift of tongues in an exceptional degree (no one would have guessed this had he not had occasion to mention it incidentally in 14:18), and deprecated the attaching of undue importance to it. It should not be exercised in public unless an interpreter is available; otherwise, it should be used only for private edification (14:4f.). The important point of all public utterance is that the Church should understand what is said and be built up by it, but it cannot be edified by what it fails to understand. Scripture suggests that God is most likely to use glossolalia when addressing people who refuse to believe His message spoken in an intelligible tongue (14:21, quoting Isa 28:11f.). Besides, the impression made on outsiders who venture into Christian meetings must be considered; the sight and sound of a whole company engaged in glossolalia will suggest that they are all mad, whereas prophecy—the proclamation of the mind of God in the power of the Spirit—will produce inward conviction and a realization that God is present (14:23-25).

As for prophecy, this does not require so much regulation, apart from the reminder that the “prophets” should speak one after another and not all together, and two or three utterances should suffice for one session. The “prophet” should maintain his self-control and be equally able to speak or to refrain from speaking (14:29-32). Women should refrain from interrupting with their questions; this did not happen in other churches and should not happen in Corinth (14:33b-36). Paul was not simply expressing his own judgment in these injunctions but conveying the Lord’s commandment as His duly commissioned apostle. Let those members of the church who consider themselves to have a special endowment of the Spirit show that this is so by recognizing the authority with which Paul spoke. The sentence, “If any one does not recognize this, he is not recognized” (14:38), belongs to the category of “eschatological judgment pronouncements” (cf. E. Käsemann, “Sätze heiligen Rechtes im Neuen Testament,” NTS i, 1954-1955, pp. 248ff.). Two principles of permanent validity in the church are “Let all things be done for edification” (14:26) and “all things should be done decently and in order” (14:40).

Although ch. 15 comes between two answers to Corinthian questions, that introduced by “Now concerning spiritual gifts...” (12:1) and that introduced by “Now concerning the contribution...” (16:1), it is not clear that the treatment of the doctrine of resurrection which it contains forms an answer to a specific question in the letter received by Paul. In any case, he knew that at Corinth there were doubts about this doctrine. (No doubt there were some members of the church who considered it an embarrassing accretion to the Gospel and were quite content with the Gr. doctrine of the immortality of the soul.) He therefore reminded them first of all of the centrality of the resurrection of Christ in the Gospel to which they owed their salvation (15:1-11, a paragraph important for many things, including the light it throws on apostolic tradition and its summary, the earliest one available, of the appearances of the risen Christ). Those who denied the principle of resurrection could not accept the fact of Christ’s resurrection, in which case the message and faith of the Gospel were illusory and the preachers were pitiable dupes (15:12-19). But the resurrection of Christ was too well established to be overthrown, and it carried with it the resurrection of His people, just as the firstfruits presented to God on the first day of the week following Passover (Lev 23:9-11) guaranteed the coming harvest. The resurrection harvest will be followed by the eternal day of God, when God has brought all hostile forces in the universe into subjection beneath the feet of the risen and exalted Christ (15:20-28). It is the hope of resurrection that encourages men and women to become Christians and receive baptism in order to be reunited with their friends who departed in Christ; the same hope emboldened Paul and his fellow apostles to endure the dangers of their calling (15:29-34).

If it be asked what the nature of the resurrection body is, Paul replied that it will be a body adapted to its new environment, as the physical body is adapted to this earthly environment; it will be a “spiritual body” whose wearers will share the glory of their risen Lord (15:35-50). By a revelation previously uncommunicated Paul declared that the resurrection will take place when the last trumpet sounds, and in that moment believers still alive will be transformed from mortal beings into immortal ones. Thanks to the victory of Christ, death then will be finally abolished. Here is encouragement indeed for Christians to persevere in their Lord’s service, knowing that it is not doomed to end in futility (15:51-58).

Paul answered their question about the way in which they should organize their contribution to the gift which all his Gentile churches were making to the Jerusalem church: let them set aside a sum of money week by week, and when he came to Corinth the money would be there, ready to be taken to Jerusalem by the church’s accredited delegates (who might be accompanied by Paul himself, 16:1-4).

Paul planned to remain at Ephesus until the following Pentecost, making use of the wideopen Gospel opportunities at present presenting themselves; then he would pass through Macedonia and visit Corinth. Meanwhile they were to expect a visit from Timothy (16:5-14).

One of the sources of the troubles in the Corinthian church was the lack of recognized leaders; Paul indicated certain people who should be accorded such recognition (16:15-18).

With greetings from Paul’s associates in the province of Asia, and esp. from Aquila and Prisca, well known in Corinth, and with a concluding benediction, the letter comes to an end (16:21-24). The last paragraph, written in Paul’s own hand, includes v. 22, prob. a familiar quotation from their communion service.

Text, canonicity and authority.

The text of 1 Corinthians raises no major problems. The integrity of the letter as a single document is commonly accepted. There are a number of individual places which present features of special textual interest, like the phrase freely tr. “to live according to scripture” (4:6), which some (e.g. Bornemann) have thought to have originated as a scribal note. Most of the textual phenomena of 1 Corinthians receive detailed study in G. Zuntz, The Text of the Epistles (1953).

The canonicity of 1 Corinthians was never an issue in the Church. From the beginnings of the Pauline corpus and the NT canon its place within the canon has been secure, not only in the Catholic church but also in such heretical bodies as the Valentinians and Marcionites. In the Marcionite order of the epistles 1 and 2 Corinthians together came second after Galatians (Galatians coming first for programmatic reasons); in the Muratorian list, 1 and 2 Corinthians together come first in the sequence of Pauline letters—perhaps because if these two are counted as one (as they were in certain quarters in the 2nd cent.) they form by far the longest document in the Pauline corpus. The authority with which the writer addresses his readers is that of the apostle of Christ whose spiritual children they were, the authority of one who claimed to have the mind of Christ and the Spirit of God (2:16; 7:40). The care which Paul took to distinguish his own judgment from the Lord’s commandment (e.g. 7:6, 10, 12, 25) adds the greater weight to places where he unambiguously calls for the obedience due to the Lord’s commandment (e.g. 14:37).

Readers of later date will distinguish between the permanent principles laid down in the letter and their local and temporary application. Corinth presented special problems and was evidently out of step with the other Gentile churches in a number of matters. The lack of clearly recognized leaders in the Corinthian church meant that Paul had to give rulings on matters which would normally have been dealt with by local leaders or elders. The cultivation of such gifts as glossolalia at Corinth does not appear to have constituted a problem in the other churches addressed by Paul; and 1 Corinthians cannot be used as a directory of public worship by churches in general. Yet the principle that ministry in the church must have as its object the spiritual welfare of the members should always be borne in mind, as also should the principle that the reputation of Christ and the Gospel is at stake in the public behavior of Christians. The Christian attitude to sex and marriage is expressed in this letter by a man who, though himself a celibate, showed a remarkable understanding of the practicalities of the marital relation and “a psychological insight into human sexuality which is altogether exceptional by first century standards” (D. S. Bailey, Sexual Relation in Christian Thought [1959], p. 10). The refusal to base Christian ethics on legalism and the exposition of the fine balance of Christian liberty and Christian charity must also be reckoned high among the chief lessons taught in 1 Corinthians.

In addition, 1 Corinthians (written not more than a quarter of a cent. after the death and resurrection of Christ) is an early and indispensable source of information about the apostolic preaching. The Gospel as summarized in 1 Corinthians 15:2ff., with its list of resurrection appearances, is clearly stated to be common ground for Paul and for such other preachers as the Twelve and James (15:11)—a statement which could have been readily refuted if it were questionable. Like these gospel facts, the record of the institution of the Eucharist (11:23ff.) forms part of the tradition (paradosis) which Paul himself received before he delivered it to his converts. One occasion when Paul could have received the tradition is indicated in Galatians 1:18ff.; it is striking that the two Jerusalem leaders whom he met in the third year after his conversion (Peter and James) are the only two whom he named in 1 Corinthians 15:5ff. as having (like himself later on) seen the risen Christ by themselves. The preaching, like the ethical teaching (cf. 7:10; 9:14), stems from the authority of Christ Himself.

Above all, this letter emphasizes the surpassing power and worth of the love of God in human life; Christianity may survive in the absence of many valuable things, but it will die if love is absent.


C. Hodge, Exposition of First Corinthians (1863; reprinted 1953); F. Godet, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 2 volumes (1886; reprinted 1957); T. C. Edwards, Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians (1897); G. G. Findlay, The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians (1900); J. Weiss, Der erste Korintherbrief (1910); H. L. Goudge, The First Epistle to the Corinthians3 (1911); A. Robertson and A. Plummer, Critical and Exegetical Commentary on First Corinthians (1911); E. B. Allo, Saint Paul: Première Épître aux Corinthiens (1935); J. Moffatt, The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians (1938); H. Lietzmann and W. G. Kummel, An die Korinther I-II4 (1949); F. W. Grosheide, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (1953); J. Héring, The First Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians (1962); T. W. Manson, Studies in the Gospels and Epistles (1962), 190-209; G. Deluz, A Companion to I Corinthians (1963); M. E. Thrall, I and II Corinthians, Cambridge Bible Commentary on the NEB (1965); J. C. Hurd, The Origin of I Corinthians (1965); A. Isaksson, Marriage and Ministry in the New Temple (1965); C. K. Barrett, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (1968); F. F. Bruce. 1 and 2 Corinthians (1971).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)



1. External Evidence

2. Internal Evidence

3. Consent of Criticism

4. Ultra-Radical Attack (Dutch School)


Integrity of 1 Corinthians


1. Corinth in 55 AD

2. Founding of the Church



1. A Previous Letter

2. Letter from Corinth


1. General Character

2. Order and Division

3. Outline

(1) 1 Corinthians 1-6

(2) 1 Corinthians 7-10

(3) 1 Corinthians 11-16


1. Party Spirit

2. Christian Conscience

3. Power of the Cross


I. Authenticity of the Two Epistles.

1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians and Romans, all belong to the period of Paul’s third missionary journey. They are the most remarkable of his writings, and are usually distinguished as the four great or principal epistles; a distinction which not only is a tribute to their high originality and intrinsic worth, but also indicates the extremely favorable opinion which critics of almost all schools have held regarding their authenticity. Throughout the centuries the tradition has remained practically unbroken, that they contain the very pectus Paulinum, the mind and heart of the great apostle of the Gentiles, and preserve to the church an impregnable defense of historical Christianity. What has to be said of their genuineness applies almost equally to both.

1. External Evidence:

The two epistles have a conspicuous place in the most ancient lists of Pauline writings. In the Muratorian Fragment (circa 170) they stand at the head of the nine epistles addressed to churches, and are declared to have been written to forbid heretical schism (primum omnium Corinthiis schisma haeresis intredicens); and in Marcion’s Apostolicon (circa 140) they stand second to Gal. They are also clearly attested in the most important writings of the subapostolic age, e.g. by Clement of Rome (circa 95), generally regarded as the friend of the apostle mentioned in Php 4:3; Ignatius (Ad Ephes., chapter xviii, second decade of 2nd century); Polycarp (chapters ii, vi, xi, first half of 2nd century), a disciple of John; and Justin Martyr (born at close of let century); while the Gnostic Ophites (2nd century) were clearly familiar with both epistles (compare Westcott, Canon, passim, and Index II; also Charteris, Canonicity, 222-224, where most of the original passages are brought together). The witness of Clement is of the highest importance. Ere the close of the let century he himself wrote a letter to the Corinthians, in which (chapter xlvii, Lightfoot’s edition, 144) he made a direct appeal to the authority of 1 Cor: "Take up the letter of Paul the blessed apostle; what did he write to you first in the beginning of the gospel? Verily he gave you spiritual direction regarding himself, Cephas, and Apollos, for even then you were dividing yourselves into parties." It would be impossible to desire more explicit external testimony.

2. Internal Evidence:

Within themselves both epistles are replete with marks of genuineness. They are palpitating human documents, with the ring of reality from first to last. They admirably harmonize with the independent narrative of Acts; in the words of Schleiermacher (Einltg., 148), "The whole fits together and completes itself perfectly, and yet each of the documents follows its own course, and the data contained in the one cannot be borrowed from those of the other." Complex and difficult as the subjects and circumstances sometimes are, and varying as the moods of the writer are in dealing with them, there is a naturalness that compels assent to his good faith. The very difficulty created for a modern reader by the incomplete and allusive character of some of the references is itself a mark of genuineness rather than the opposite; just what would most likely be the ease in a free and intimate correspondence between those who understood one another in the presence of immediate facts which needed no careful particularization; but what would almost as certainly have been avoided in a fictitious composition. Indeed a modicum of literary sense suffices to forbid classification among the pseudepigrapha. To take but a few instances from many, it is impossible to read such passages as those conveying the remonstrance in 1Co 9, the alternations of anxiety and relief in connection with the meeting of Titus in 2Co 2 and 7, or the ever-memorable passage which begins at 2Co 11:24 of the same epistle: "Of the Jews five times received I," ere, without feeling that the hypothesis of fiction becomes an absurdity. No man ever wrote out of the heart if this writer did not. The truth is that theory of pseudonymity leaves far more difficulties behind it than any it is supposed to solve. The unknown and unnamable literary prodigy of the 2nd century, who in the most daring and artistic manner gloried in the fanciful creation of those minute and life-like details which have imprinted themselves indelibly on the memory and imagination of mankind, cannot be regarded as other than a chimera. No one knows where or when he lived, or in what shape or form. But if the writings are the undoubted rescripts of fact, to whose life and personality do they fit themselves more exquisitely than to those of the man whose name stands at their head, and whose compositions they claim to be? They suit beyond compare the apostle of the missionary journeys, the tender, eager, indomitable "prisoner of the Lord," and no other. No other that has even been suggested is more than the mere shadow of a name, and no two writers have as yet seriously agreed even as to the shadow. The pertinent series of questions with which Godet (Intro to New Testament; Studies on the Epistles, 305) concludes his remarks on the genuineness may well be repeated: "What use was it to explain at length in the 2nd century a change in a plan of the journey, which, supposing it was real, had interest only for those whom the promised visit of the apostle personally concerned? When the author speaks of five hundred persons who had seen the risen Christ, of whom the most part were still alive at the time when he was writing, is he telling his readers a mere story that would resemble a bad joke? What was the use of discussing at length and giving detailed rules on the exercise of the glossolalia at a time when that gift no longer existed, so to say, in the church? Why make the apostle say: `We who shall be alive (at the moment of the Parousia)’ at a time when everyone knew that he was long dead? In fine, what church would have received without opposition into its archives, as an epistle of the apostle, half a century after his death, a letter unknown till then, and filled with reproaches most severe and humiliating to it?"

3. Consent of Criticism:

One is not surprised, therefore, that even the radical criticism of the 19th century cordially accepted the Corinthian epistles and their companions in the great group. The men who founded that criticism were under no conceivable constraint in such a conclusion, save the constraint of obvious and incontrovertible fact. The Tubingen school, which doubted or denied the authenticity of all the rest of the epistles, frankly acknowledged the genuineness of these. This also became the general verdict of the "critical" school which followed that of Tubingen, and which, in many branches, has included the names of the leading German scholars to this day. F. C. Baur’s language (Paul, I, 246) was: "There has never been the slightest suspicion of unauthenticity cast on these four epistles, and they bear so incontestably the character of Pauline originality, that there is no conceivable ground for the assertion of critical doubts in their case." Renan (St. Paul, Introduction, V) was equally emphatic: "They are incontestable, and uncontested."

4. Ultra-Radical Attack (Dutch School):

Reference, however, must be made to the ultra-radical attack which has gathered some adherents, especially among Dutch scholars, during the last 25 years. As early as 1792 Evanson, a retired English clergyman, rejected Rome on the ground that, according to Acts, no church existed in Rome in Paul’s day. Bruno Bauer (1850-51-52) made a more sweeping attack, relegating the whole of the four principal epistles to the close of the 2nd century. His views received little attention, until, in 1886 onward, they were taken up and extended by a series of writers in Holland, Pierson and Naber, and Loman, followed rapidly by Steck of Bern, Volter of Amsterdam, and above all by Van Manen of Leyden. According to these writers, with slight modifications of view among themselves, it is very doubtful if Paul or Christ ever really existed; if they did, legend has long since made itself master of their personalities, and in every case what borders on the supernatural is to be taken as the criterion of the legendary. The epistles were written in the 1st quarter of the 2nd century, and as Paul, so far as he was known, was believed to be a reformer of anti-Judaic sympathies, he was chosen as the patron of the movement, and the writings were published in his name. The aim of the whole series was to further the interests of a supposed circle of clever and elevated men, who, partly imbued with Hebrew ideals, and partly with the speculations of Greek and Alexandrian philosophy, desired the spread of a universalistic Christianity and true Gnosis. For this end they perceived it necessary that Jewish legalism should be neutralized, and that the narrow national element should be expelled from the Messianic idea. Hence, the epistles The principles on which the main contentions of the critics are based may be reduced to two:

(1) that there are relations in the epistles so difficult to understand that, since we cannot properly understand them, the epistles are not trustworthy; and

(2) that the religious and ecclesiastical development is so great that not merely 20 or 30 years, but 70 or 80 more, are required, if we are to be able rationally to conceive it: to accept the situation at an earlier date is simply to accept what cannot possibly have been.

It is manifest that on such principles it is possible to establish what one will, and that any historical literature might be proved untrustworthy, and reshaped according to the subjective idiosyncrasies of the critic. The underlying theory of intellectual development is too rigid, and is quite oblivious of the shocks it receives from actual facts, by the advent in history from time to time of powerful, compelling, and creative personalities, who rather mould their age than are moulded by it. None have poured greater ridicule on this "pseudo-Kritik" than the representatives of the advanced school in Germany whom it rather expected to carry with it, and against whom it complains bitterly that they do not take it seriously. On the whole the vagaries of the Dutch school have rather confirmed than shaken belief in these epistles; and one may freely accept Ramsay’s view (HDB, I, 484) as expressing the modern mind regarding them, namely, that they are "the unimpeached and unassailable nucleus of admitted Pauline writings." (Reference to the following will give a sufficiently adequate idea of the Dutch criticism and the replies that have been made to it: Van Manen, EB, article "Paul," and Expository Times, IX, 205, 257, 314; Knowling, Witness of the Epistles; Clemen, Einheitlichkeit der p. B.; Sanday and Headlam, Romans, ICC; Godet, Julicher and Zahn, in their Introductions; Schmiedel and Lipsius in the Hand-Commentar.)

II. Text of 1 and 2 Corinthians:

Integrity of 1 Corinthians:

The text of both epistles comes to us in the most ancient VSS, the Syriac (Peshito), the Old Latin, and the Egyptian all of which were in very early use, undoubtedly by the 3rd century. It is complete in the great Greek uncials: Codex Sinaiticus (original scribe) and a later scribe, 4th century, Codex Vaticanus (B, 4th century), Codex Alexandrinus (A, 5th century, minus two verses, 2Co 4:13; 12:7), and very nearly complete in Codex Ephraemi (C, 5th century), and in the Greek-Latin Claromontanus (D, 6th century); as well as in numerous cursives. In both cases the original has been well preserved, and no exegetical difficulties of high importance are presented. (Reference should be made to the Introduction in Sanday and Headlam’s Romans, ICC (1896), where section 7 gives valuable information concerning the text, not only of Roman, but of the Pauline epistles generally; also to the recent edition (Oxford, 1910), New Testament Graecae, by Souter, where the various readings of the text used in the Revised Version (British and American) (1881) are conveniently exhibited.) On the whole the text of 1Co flows on consistently, only at times, in a characteristic fashion, winding back upon itself, and few serious criticisms are made on its unity, although the case is different in this respect with its companion epistle Some writers, on insufficient grounds, believe that 1 Corinthians contains relics of a previous epistle (compare 1Co 5:9), e. g. in 1Co 7:17-24; 9:1-10:22; 15:1-55.

III. Paul’s Previous Relations with Corinth.

1. Corinth in 55 AD:

When, in the course of his 2nd missionary journey, Paul left Athens (Ac 18:1), he sailed westward to Cenchrea, and entered Corinth "in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling" (1Co 2:3). He was doubtless alone, although Silas and Timothy afterward joined him (Ac 18:5; 2Co 1:19). The ancient city of Corinth had been utterly laid in ruins when Rome subjugated Greece in the middle of the 2nd century BC. But in the year 46 BC Caesar had caused it to be rebuilt and colonized in the Roman manner, and during the century that had elapsed it had prospered and grown enormously. Its population at this time has been estimated at between 600,000 and 700,000, by far the larger portion of whom were slaves. Its magnificent harbors, Cenchrea and Lechaeum, opening to the commerce of East and West, were crowded with ships, and its streets with travelers and merchants from almost every country under heaven. Even in that old pagan world the reputation of the city was bad; it has been compared (Baring-Gould, Study of Paul, 241) to an amalgam of new-market, Chicago and Paris, and probably it contained the worst features of each. At night it was made hideous by the brawls and lewd songs of drunken revelry. In the daytime its markets and squares swarmed with Jewish peddlers, foreign traders, sailors, soldiers, athletes in training, boxers, wrestlers, charioteers, racing-men, betting-men, courtesans, slaves, idlers and parasites of every description. The corrupting worship of Aphrodite, with its hordes of hierodouloi, was dominant, and all over the Greek-Roman world, "to behave as a Corinthian" was a proverbial synonym for leading a low, shameless and immoral life. Very naturally such a polluted and idolatrous environment accounts for much that has to be recorded of the semi-pagan and imperfect life of many of the early converts.

2. Founding of the Church:

IV. Date of the Epistle.

After a sojourn of eighteen months (Ac 18:11) in this fruitful field, Paul departed, most probably in the year 52 (compare Turner, article "Chron. New Testament," HDB, I, 422 ff), and, having visited Jerusalem and returned to Asia Minor (third journey), established himself for a period of between two and three years (trietia, Ac 20:31) in Ephesus (Ac 18:18 onward). It was during his stay there that his epistle was written, either in the spring (pre- Pentecost, 1Co 16:8) of the year in which he left, 55; or, if that does not give sufficient interval for a visit and a letter to Corinth, which there is considerable ground for believing intervened between 1Co and the departure from Ephesus, then in the spring of the preceding year, 54. This would give ample time for the conjectured events, and there is no insuperable reason against it. Pauline chronology is a subject by itself, but the suggested dates for the departure from Ephesus, and for the writing of 1 Corinthians, really fluctuate between the years 53 and 57. Harnack (Gesch. der altchrist. Litt., II; Die Chron., I) and McGiffert (Apos Age) adopt the earlier date; Ramsay (St. Paul the Traveler), 56; Lightfoot (Bib. Essays) and Zahn (Einl.), 57; Turner (ut supra), 55. Many regard 57 as too late, but Robertson (HDB, I, 485-86) still adheres to it.

V. Occasion of the Epistle.

1. A Previous Letter:

2. Letter from Corinth:

This letter has not been preserved, but it was evidently the immediate occasion of our epistle, and its tenor is clearly indicated by the nature of the apostle’s reply. (The letter, professing to be this letter to Paul, and its companion, professing to be Paul’s own lost letter just referred to, which deal with Gnostic heresies, and were for long accepted by the Syrian and Armenian churches, are manifestly apocryphal. (Compare Stanley’s Corinthians, Appendix; Harnack’s Gesch. der altchrist. Litt., I, 37-39, and II, 506-8; Zahn, Einleitung., I, 183-249; Sanday, Encyclopedia Biblica, I, 906-7.) If there be any relic in existence of Paul’s previous letter, it is possibly to be found in the passage 2Co 6:14-7:1; at all events that passage may be regarded as reminiscent of its style and message.) So that 1 Corinthians is no bow drawn at a venture. It treats of a fully understood, and, on the whole, of a most unhappy situation. The church had broken into factions, and was distracted by party cries. Some of its members were living openly immoral lives, and discipline was practically in abeyance. Others had quarrels over which they dragged one another into the heathen courts. Great differences of opinion had also arisen with regard to marriage and the social relations generally; with regard to banquets and the eating of food offered to idols; with regard to the behavior of women in the assemblies, to the Lord’s Supper and the love-feasts, to the use and value of spiritual gifts, and with regard to the hope of the resurrection. The apostle was filled with grief and indignation, which the too complacent tone of the Corinthians only intensified. They discussed questions in a lofty, intellectual way, without seeming to perceive their real drift, or the life and spirit which lay imperiled at their heart. Resisting the impulse to visit them "with a rod" (2Co 4:21), the apostle wrote the present epistle, and dispatched it, if not by the hands of Stephanas and his comrades, most probably by the hands of Titus.

VI. Contents.

1. General Character:

In its general character the epistle is a strenuous writing, masterly in its restraint in dealing with opposition, firm in its grasp of ethical and spiritual principles, and wise and faithful in their application. It is calm, full of reasoning, clear and balanced in judgment; very varied in its lights and shadows, in its kindness, its gravity, its irony. It moves with firm tread among the commonest themes, but also rises easily into the loftiest spheres of thought and vision, breaking again and again into passages of glowing and rhythmical eloquence. It rebukes error, exposes and condemns sin, solves doubts, upholds and encourages faith, and all in a spirit of the utmost tenderness and love, full of grace and truth. It is broad in its outlook, penetrating in its insight, unending in its interest and application.

2. Order and Division:

It is also very orderly in its arrangement, so that it is not difficult to follow the writer as he advances from point to point. Weizsacker (Apos Age, I, 324-25) suggestively distinguishes the matter into

(1) subjects introduced by the letter from Corinth, and

(2) those on which Paul had obtained information otherwise.

He includes three main topics in the first class: marriage, meat offered to idols and spiritual gifts (there is a fourth--the logia or collection, 1Co 16:1); six in the second class: the factions, the case of incest, the lawsuits, the free customs of the women, the abuse connected with the Supper and the denial of the resurrection. It is useful, however, to adhere to the sequence of the epistle In broadly outlining the subject-matter we may make a threefold division:

(1) chapters 1-6;

(2) chapters 7-10; and

(3) chapter 11 through end.

3. Outline:

(1) 1 Corinthians 1-6:

After salutation, in which he associates Sosthenes with himself, and thanksgiving for the grace given to the Corinthians (1Co 1:1-9), Paul immediately begins (1Co 1:10-13) to refer to the internal divisions among them, and to the unworthy and misguided party cries that had arisen. (Many theories have been formed as to the exact significance of the so-called "Christus-party," a party whose danger becomes more obvious in 2 Cor. Compare Meyer- Heinrici, Comm., 8th edition; Godet, Intro, 250 ff; Stanley, Cor, 29-30; Farrar, Paul, chapter xxxi; Pfleiderer, Paulinism, II, 28-31; Weiss, Intro, I, 259-65; Weizsacker, Apos Age, I, 325-33, and 354 ff. Weizsacker holds that the name indicates exclusive relation to an authority, while Baur and Pfleiderer argue that it was a party watchword (virtually Petrine) taken to bring out the apostolic inferiority of Paul. On the other hand a few scholars maintain that the name does not, strictly speaking, indicate a party at all but rather designates those who were disgusted at the display of all party spirit, and with whom Paul was in hearty sympathy. See McGiffert, Apos Age, 295-97.) After denouncing this petty partisanship, Paul offers an elaborate defense of his own ministry, declaring the power and wisdom of God in the gospel of the Cross (1:14-2:16), returning in chapter 3 to the spirit of faction, showing its absurdity and narrowness in face of the fullness of the Christian heritage in "all things" that belong to them as belonging to Christ; and once more defending his ministry in chapter 4, making a touching appeal to his readers as his "beloved children," whom he had begotten through the gospel. In chapter 5 he deals with the case of a notorious offender, guilty of incest, whom they unworthily harbor in their midst, and in the name of Christ demands that they should expel him from the church, pointing out at the same time that it is against the countenancing of immorality within the church membership that he specially warns, and had previously warned in his former epistle Ch 6 deals with the shamefulness of Christian brethren haling one another to the heathen courts, and not rather seeking the settlement of their differences within themselves; reverting once more in the closing verses to the subject of unchastity, which irrepressibly haunts him as he thinks of them.

(2) 1 Corinthians 7-10:

In 1Co 7 he begins to reply to two of the matters on which the church had expressly consulted him in its ep., and which he usually induces by the phrase peri de, "now concerning." The first of these bears (chapter 7) upon celibacy and marriage, including the case of "mixed" marriage. These questions he treats quite frankly, yet with delicacy and circumspection, always careful to distinguish between what he has received as the direct word of the Lord, and what he only delivers as his own opinion, the utterance of his own sanctified common-sense, yet to which the good spirit within him gives weight. The second matter on which advice was solicited, questions regarding eidolothuta, meats offered to idols, he discusses in chapter 8, recurring to it again in chapter 10 to end. The scruples and casuistries involved he handles with excellent wisdom, and lays down a rule for the Christian conscience of a far-reaching kind, happily expressed: "All things are lawful; but not all things are expedient. All things are lawful; but not all things edify. Let no man seek his own, but each his neighbor’s good" (10:23,14). By lifting their differences into the purer atmosphere of love and duty, he causes them to dissolve away. Chapter 9 contains another notable defense of his apostleship, in which he asserts the principle that the Christian ministry has a claim for its support on those to whom it ministers, although in his own case he deliberately waived his right, that no challenge on such a matter should be possible among them. The earlier portion of chapter 10 contains a reference to Jewish idolatry and sacramental abuse, in order that the evils that resulted might point a moral, and act as a solemn warning to Christians in relation to their own rites.

(3) 1 Corinthians 11-16:

The third section deals with certain errors and defects that had crept into the inner life and observances of the church, also with further matters on which the Corinthians sought guidance, namely, spiritual gifts and the collection for the saints. 1Co 11:1-16 has regard to the deportment of women and their veiling in church, a matter which seems to have occasioned some difficulty, and which Paul deals with in a manner quite his own; passing thereafter to treat of graver and more disorderly affairs, gross abuses in the form of gluttony and drunkenness at the Lord’s Supper, which leads him, after severe censure, to make his classic reference to that sacred ordinance (verse 20 to end). Chapter 12 sets forth the diversity, yet true unity, of spiritual gifts, and the confusion and jealousy to which a false conception of them inevitably leads, obscuring that "most excellent way," the love which transcends them all, which never faileth, the greatest of the Christian graces, whose praise he chants in language of surpassing beauty (chapter 13). He strives also, in the following chapter, to correct the disorder arising from the abuse of the gift of tongues, many desiring to speak at once, and many speaking only a vain babble which no one could understand, thinking themselves thereby highly gifted. It is not edifying: "I had rather," he declares, "speak five words with my understanding, that I might instruct others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue" (1Co 14:19). Thereafter follows the immortal chapter on the resurrection, which he had learned that some denied (1Co 15:12). He anchors the faith to the resurrection of Christ as historic fact, abundantly attested (verses 3-8), shows how all-essential it is to the Christian hope (verses 13-19), and then proceeds by reasoning and analogy to brush aside certain naturalistic objections to the great doctrine, "then they that are Christ’s, at his coming" (verse 23), when this mortal shall have put on immortality, and death be swallowed up in victory (verse 54). The closing chapter gives directions as to the collection for the saints in Jerusalem, on which his heart was deeply set, and in which he hoped the Corinthians would bear a worthy share. He promises to visit them, and even to tarry the winter with them. He then makes a series of tender personal references, and so brings the great epistle to a close.

VII. Distinguishing Features.

It will be seen that there are passages in the epistle of great doctrinal and historical importance, especially with reference to the Person of Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Eucharist and the Resurrection; also many that illuminate the nature of the religious meetings and services of the early church (compare particularly on these, Weizsacker, Apos Age, II, 246 ff). A lurid light is cast on many of the errors and evils that not unnaturally still clung to those who were just emerging from paganism, and much allowance has to be made for the Corinthian environment. The thoroughness with which the apostle pursues the difficulties raised into their relations and details, and the wide scope of matters which he subjects to Christian scrutiny and criterion, are also significant. Manifestly he regarded the gospel as come to fill, not a part, but the whole, of life; to supply principles that follow the believers to their homes, to the most secluded sanctum there, out again to the world, to the market-place, the place of amusement, of temptation, of service, of trial, of worship and prayer; and all in harmony with knowing nothing "save Jesus Christ, and him crucified." For Paul regards that not as a restriction, but as a large and expansive principle. He sets the cross on an eminence so high that its shadow covers the whole activities of human life.

1. Party Spirit:

Three broad outstanding features of a practical kind may be recognized. The first is the earnest warning it conveys against a factious spirit as inimical to the Christian life. The Corinthians were imbued with the party spirit of Greek democracy, and were infected also by the sporting spirit of the great games that entered so largely into their existence. They transferred these things to the church. They listened to their teachers with itching ears, not as men who wished to learn, but as partisans who sought occasion either to applaud or to condemn. Paul recognizes that, though they are not dividing on deep things of the faith, they are giving way to "schisms" of a pettier and perhaps even more perilous kind, that appeal to the lowest elements in human nature, that cause scandal in the eyes of men and inflict grievous wounds on the Body of Christ. In combating this spirit he takes occasion to go below the surface, and to reveal the foundations of true Christian unity. That must simply be "in Christ." And this is true even if the divergence should be on higher and graver things. Any unity in such a case, still possible to cherish, must be a unity in Christ. None can be unchurched who build on Him; none severed from the true and catholic faith, who confess with their lips and testify with their lives that He is Lord.

2. Christian Conscience:

The epistle also renders a high ethical service in the rules it lays down for the guidance of the Christian conscience. In matters where the issue is clearly one of the great imperatives, the conflict need never be protracted. An earnest man will see his way. But beyond these, or not easily reducible to them, there are many matters that cause perplexity and doubt. Questions arise regarding things that do not seem to be wrong in themselves, yet whose abuse or the offense they give to others, may well cause debate. Meat offered to idols, and then brought to table, was a stumbling-block to many Corinthian Christians. They said: "If we eat, it is consenting to idolatry; we dare not partake." But there were some who rose to a higher level. They perceived that this was a groundless scruple, for an idol is nothing at all, and the meat is not affected by the superstition. Accordingly, their higher and more rational view gave them liberty and left their conscience free. But was this really all that they had to consider? Some say: "Certainly"; and Paul acknowledges that this is undoubtedly the law of individual freedom. But it is not the final answer. There has not entered into it a consideration of the mind of Christ. Christian liberty must be willing to subject itself to the law of love. Granted that a neighbor is often short-sighted and over-scrupulous, and that it would be good neither for him nor for others to suffer him to become a moral dictator; yet we are not quite relieved. The brother may be weak, but the very claim of his weakness may be strong. We may not ride over his scruples roughshod. To do so would be to put ourselves wrong even more seriously. And if the matter is one that is manifestly fraught with peril to him, conscience may be roused to say, as the apostle says: "Wherefore, if meat maketh my brother to stumble, I will eat no flesh for evermore."

3. Power of the Cross:

A third notable feature of the epistle is its exaltation of the cross of Christ as the power and wisdom of God unto salvation. It was the force that began to move and unsettle, to lift and change from its base, the life of that old heathen world. It was neither Paul, nor Apollos, nor Cephas who accomplished that colossal task, but the preaching of the crucified Christ. The Christianity of Corinth and of Europe began with the gospel of Calvary and the open tomb. It can never with impunity draw away from these central facts. The river broadens and deepens as it flows, but it is never possible for it to sever itself from the living fountain from which it springs.


The following writers will be found most important and helpful:

1. On Matters of Introduction (Both Epistles):

Holtzmann, Weiss, Hausrath, Harnack, Pfleiderer, Godet, Weizsacker, Julicher, Zahn, Salmon, Knowling, McGiffert, J. H. Kennedy, Ramsay, Sabatier, Farrar, Dobschutz, Robertson (Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible (five volumes)), Sanday (Encyclopaedia Biblica), Plummer (DB), Ropes (Encyclopedia Brittanica, 11th edition).

2. Commentaries and Lectures (on 1 Corinthians or Both):

Meyer-Heinrici, Godet, T. C. Edwards, Hodge, Beet, Ellicott, Schmiedel (Hand-Comm.), Evans (Speakers’ Commentary), Farrar (Pulpit Commentary), Lightfoot (chapters i through vii in Biblical Ess.), Lias (Cambridge Greek Testament), McFadyen, F. W. Robertson, Findlay (Expos. Greek Test.); and on 2 Corinthians alone: Klopper, Waite (Speakers’ Comm.), Denney (Expos. Bible), Bernard (Expos. Greek Test.).

3. Ancient Writers and Special Articles:

For ancient writers and special articles, the list at close of Plummer’s article in Smith, Dictionary of the Bible should be consulted.

R. Dykes Shaw