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The Authenticity of this Epistle is attested by Clement of Rome [First Epistle to the Corinthians, 47], Polycarp [Epistle to the Philippians, 11], and Irenæus [Against Heresies, 4.27.3]. The city to which it was sent was famed for its wealth and commerce, which were chiefly due to its situation between the Ionian and Ægean Seas on the isthmus connecting the Peloponese with Greece. In Paul's time it was the capital of the province Achaia and the seat of the Roman proconsul (Ac 18:12). The state of morals in it was notorious for debauchery, even in the profligate heathen world; so much so that "to Corinthianize" was a proverbial phrase for "to play the wanton"; hence arose dangers to the purity of the Christian Church at Corinth. That Church was founded by Paul on his first visit (Ac 18:1-17).
He had been the instrument of converting many Gentiles (1Co 12:2), and some Jews (Ac 18:8), notwithstanding the vehement opposition of the countrymen of the latter (Ac 18:5), during the year and a half in which he sojourned there. The converts were chiefly of the humbler classes (1Co 1:26, &c.). Crispus (1Co 1:14; Ac 18:8), Erastus, and Gaius (Caius) were, however, men of rank (Ro 16:23). A variety of classes is also implied in 1Co 11:22. The risk of contamination by contact with the surrounding corruptions, and the temptation to a craving for Greek philosophy and rhetoric (which Apollos' eloquent style rather tended to foster, Ac 18:24, &c.) in contrast to Paul's simple preaching of Christ crucified (1Co 2:1, &c.), as well as the opposition of certain teachers to him, naturally caused him anxiety. Emissaries from the Judaizers of Palestine boasted of "letters of commendation" from Jerusalem, the metropolis of the faith. They did not, it is true, insist on circumcision in refined Corinth, where the attempt would have been hopeless, as they did among the simpler people of Galatia; but they attacked the apostolic authority of Paul (1Co 9:1, 2; 2Co 10:1, 7, 8), some of them declaring themselves followers of Cephas, the chief apostle, others boasting that they belonged to Christ Himself (1Co 1:12; 2Co 10:7), while they haughtily repudiated all subordinate teaching. Those persons gave out themselves for apostles (2Co 11:5, 13). The ground taken by them was that Paul was not one of the Twelve, and not an eye-witness of the Gospel facts, and durst not prove his apostleship by claiming sustenance from the Christian Church. Another section avowed themselves followers of Paul himself, but did so in a party spirit, exalting the minister rather than Christ. The followers of Apollos, again, unduly prized his Alexandrian learning and eloquence, to the disparagement of the apostle, who studiously avoided any deviation from Christian simplicity (1Co 2:1-5). In some of this last philosophizing party there may have arisen the Antinomian tendency which tried to defend theoretically their own practical immorality: hence their denial of the future resurrection, and their adoption of the Epicurean motto, prevalent in heathen Corinth, "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die" (1Co 15:32). Hence, perhaps, arose their connivance at the incestuous intercourse kept up by one of the so-called Christian body with his stepmother during his father's life. The household of Chloe informed Paul of many other evils: such as contentions, divisions, and lawsuits brought against brethren in heathen law courts by professing Christians; the abuse of their spiritual gifts into occasions of display and fanaticism; the interruption of public worship by simultaneous and disorderly ministrations, and decorum violated by women speaking unveiled (contrary to Oriental usage), and so usurping the office of men, and even the holy communion desecrated by greediness and revelling on the part of the communicants. Other messengers, also, came from Corinth, consulting him on the subject of (1) the controversy about meats offered to idols; (2) the disputes about celibacy and marriage; (3) the due exercise of spiritual gifts in public worship; (4) the best mode of making the collection which he had requested for the saints at Jerusalem (1Co 16:1, &c.). Such were the circumstances which called forth the First Epistle to the Corinthians, the most varied in its topics of all the Epistles.
In 1Co 5:9, "I wrote unto you in an Epistle not to company with fornicators," it is implied that Paul had written a previous letter to the Corinthians (now lost). Probably in it he had also enjoined them to make a contribution for the poor saints at Jerusalem, whereupon they seem to have asked directions as to the mode of doing so, to which he now replies (1Co 16:2). It also probably announced his intention of visiting them on way to Macedonia, and again on his return from Macedonia (2Co 1:15, 16), which purpose he changed hearing the unfavorable report from Chloe's household (1Co 16:5-7), for which he was charged with (2Co 1:17). In the first Epistle which we have, the subject of fornication is alluded to only in a way, as if he were rather replying to an excuse set up after rebuke in the matter, than introducing for the first time [Alford]. Preceding this former letter, he seems to have paid a second visit to Corinth. For in 2Co 12:4; 13:1, he speaks of his intention of paying them a third visit, implying he had already twice visited them. See on 2Co 2:1; 2Co 13:2; also see on 2Co 1:15; 2Co 1:16. It is hardly likely that during his three years' sojourn at Ephesus he would have failed to revisit his Corinthian converts, which he could so readily do by sea, there being constant maritime intercourse between the two cities. This second visit was probably a short one (compare 1Co 16:7); and attended with pain and humiliation (2Co 2:1; 12:21), occasioned by the scandalous conduct of so many of his own converts. His milder censures having then failed to produce reformation, he wrote briefly directing them "not to company with fornicators." On their misapprehending this injunction, he explained it more fully in the Epistle, the first of the two extant (1Co 5:9, 12). That the second visit is not mentioned in Acts is no objection to its having really taken place, as that book is fragmentary and omits other leading incidents in Paul's life; for example, his visit to Arabia, Syria, and Cilicia (Ga 1:17-21).
The Place of Writing is fixed to be Ephesus (1Co 16:8). The subscription in English Version, "From Philippi," has no authority whatever, and probably arose from a mistaken translation of 1Co 16:5, "For I am passing through Macedonia." At the time of writing Paul implies (1Co 16:8) that he intended to leave Ephesus after Pentecost of that year. He really did leave it about Pentecost (A.D. 57). Compare Ac 19:20. The allusion to Passover imagery in connection with our Christian Passover, Easter (1Co 5:7), makes it likely that the season was about Easter. Thus the date of the Epistle is fixed with tolerable accuracy, about Easter, certainly before Pentecost, in the third year of his residence at Ephesus, A.D. 57. For other arguments, see Conybeare and Howson's Life and Epistles of St. Paul.
The Epistle is written in the name of Sosthenes "[our] brother." Birks supposes he is the same as the Sosthenes, Ac 18:17, who, he thinks, was converted subsequently to that occurrence. He bears no part in the Epistle itself, the apostle in the very next verses (1Co 1:4, &c.) using the first person: so Timothy is introduced, 2Co 1:1. The bearers of the Epistle were probably Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus (see the subscription, 1Co 16:24), whom he mentions (1Co 16:17, 18) as with him then, but who he implies are about to return back to Corinth; and therefore he commends them to the regard of the Corinthians.
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