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History of the Christian Church, Volume I: Apostolic Christianity. A.D. 1-100.
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§ 90. The Epistles to the Corinthians.


Corinth was the metropolis of Achaia, on the bridge of two seas, an emporium of trade between the East and the West—wealthy, luxurious, art-loving, devoted to the worship of Aphrodite. Here Paul established the most important church in Greece, and labored, first eighteen months, then three months, with, perhaps, a short visit between (2 Cor. 12:14; 13:1). The church presented all the lights and shades of the Greek nationality under the influence of the Gospel. It was rich in "all utterance and all knowledge," "coming behind in no gift," but troubled by the spirit of sect and party, infected with a morbid desire for worldly wisdom and brilliant eloquence, with scepticism and moral levity—nay, to some extent polluted with gross vices, so that even the Lord’s table and love feasts were desecrated by excesses, and that the apostle, in his absence, found himself compelled to excommunicate a particularly offensive member who disgraced the Christian profession.11371137    Such scandals would be almost incredible in a Christian church if the apostle did not tell us so. As to the case of incest, 1 Cor. 5:1 sqq., we should remember that Corinth was the most licentious city in all Greece, and that in the splendid temple of her patron-goddess on the Acropolis there were kept more than a thousand sacred female slaves (ἱερόδουλοι) for the pleasure of strangers. Κορινθία κόρη was the name for a courtesan. Chastity was therefore one of the most difficult virtues to practice there; and hence the apostle’s advice of a radical cure by absolute abstinence under the peculiar circumstances of the time. It was distracted by Judaizers and other troublers, who abused the names of Cephas, James, Apollos, and even of Christ (as extra-Christians), for sectarian ends.11381138    The question of the Corinthian parties (with special reference to the Christ party) I have discussed at length in my Hist. of the Ap. Church, pp. 285-291. Baur’s essay on this subject (1831) was the opening chapter in the development of the Tübingen theory. A number of questions of morality and casuistry arose in that lively, speculative, and excitable community, which the apostle had to answer from a distance before his second (or third) and last visit.

Hence, these Epistles abound in variety of topics, and show the extraordinary versatility of the mind of the writer, and his practical wisdom in dealing with delicate and complicated questions and unscrupulous opponents. For every aberration he has a word of severe censure, for every danger a word of warning, for every weakness a word of cheer and sympathy, for every returning offender a word of pardon and encouragement. The Epistles lack the unity of design which characterizes Galatians and Romans. They are ethical, ecclesiastical, pastoral, and personal, rather than dogmatic and theological, although some most important doctrines, as that on the resurrection, are treated more fully than elsewhere.

I. The First Epistle to the Corinthians was composed in Ephesus shortly before Paul’s departure for Greece, in the spring of a.d. 57.11391139    Comp. 1 Cor. 16:5, 8; 5:7, 8; Acts 19:10, 21; 20: 31. It had been preceded by another one, now lost (1 Cor. 5:9). It was an answer to perplexing questions concerning various disputes and evils which disturbed the peace and spotted the purity of the congregation. The apostle contrasts the foolish wisdom of the gospel with the wise folly of human philosophy; rebukes sectarianism; unfolds the spiritual unity and harmonious variety of the church of Christ, her offices and gifts of grace, chief among which is love; warns against carnal impurity as a violation of the temple of God; gives advice concerning marriage and celibacy without binding the conscience (having "no commandment of the Lord," 7:25); discusses the question of meat sacrificed to idols, on which Jewish and Gentile Christians, scrupulous and liberal brethren, were divided; enjoins the temporal support of the ministry as a Christian duty of gratitude for greater spiritual mercies received; guards against improprieties of dress; explains the design and corrects the abuses of the Lord’s Supper; and gives the fullest exposition of the doctrine of the resurrection on the basis of the resurrection of Christ and his personal manifestations to the disciples, and last, to himself at his conversion. Dean Stanley says of this Epistle that it "gives a clearer insight than any other portion of the New Testament into the institutions, feelings and opinions of the church of the earlier period of the apostolic age. It is in every sense the earliest chapter of the history of the Christian church." The last, however, is not quite correct. The Corinthian chapter was preceded by the Jerusalem and Antioch chapters.


Leading Thoughts: Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you (1 Cor. 1:13) ? It was God’s pleasure through the foolishness of the preaching [not through foolish preaching] to save them that believe (1:21). We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto Gentiles foolishness, but unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God (1:24). I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus, and him crucified (2:2). The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God (2:14). Other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ (3:11). Know ye not that ye are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man destroy the temple of God, him shall God destroy (3:16, 17). Let a man so account of ourselves as of ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God (4:1). The kingdom of God is not in word, but in power (4:20). Purge out the old leaven (5:7). All things are lawful for me; but not all things are expedient (6:12). Know ye not that your bodies are members of Christ (6:15) ? Flee fornication (6:18). Glorify God in your body (6:20). Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing; but the keeping of the commandments of God (7:19). Let each man abide in that calling wherein he was called (7:20). Ye were bought with a price; become not bondservants of men (7:23). Take heed lest this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to the weak (8:9). If meat [or wine] maketh my brother to stumble, I will eat no flesh [and drink no wine] for evermore, that I make not my brother to stumble (8:13). They who proclaim the gospel shall live of the gospel (9:14). Woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel (9:16). I am become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some (9:22). Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall (10:12). All things are lawful, but all things are not expedient. Let no man seek his own, but each his neighbor’s good (10:23). Whosoever shall eat the bread or drink the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord ... He that eateth and drinketh eateth and drinketh judgment unto himself if he discern (discriminate) not the body (11:27–29). There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit (12:4). Now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; and the greatest of these is love (13:13). Follow after love (14:1). Let all things be done unto edifying (14:26). By the grace of God I am what I am (15:9). If Christ hath not been raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins (15:17). As in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive (15:22). God shall be all in all (15:28). If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body (15:44). This corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality (15:54). Be ye steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord (15:58). Upon the first day in the week let each one of you lay by him in store, as he may prosper (16:2). Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong. Let all that ye do be done in love (16:13, 14.).

II. The Second Epistle to the Corinthians was written in the summer or autumn of the same year, 57, from some place in Macedonia, shortly before the author’s intended personal visit to the metropolis of Achaia.11401140    2 Cor. 7:5; 8:1; 9:2. Some ancient MSS. date the second Epistle from Philippi. It evidently proceeded from profound agitation, and opens to us very freely the personal character and feelings, the official trials and joys, the noble pride and deep humility, the holy earnestness and fervent love, of the apostle. It gives us the deepest insight into his heart, and is almost an autobiography. He had, in the meantime, heard fuller news, through Titus, of the state of the church, the effects produced by his first Epistle, and the intrigues of the emissaries of the Judaizing party, who followed him everywhere and tried to undermine his work. This unchristian opposition compelled him, in self-defence, to speak of his ministry and his personal experience with overpowering eloquence. He also urges again upon the congregation the duty of charitable collections for the poor. The Epistle is a mine of pastoral wisdom.


Leading Thoughts: As the sufferings of Christ abound unto us, even so our comfort also aboundeth through Christ (2 Cor. 1:5). As ye are partakers of the sufferings, so also are ye of the comfort (1:7). Not that we have lordship over your faith, but are helpers of your joy (1:24). Who is sufficient for these things (2:16)? Ye are our epistle, written in our hearts, known and read of all men (3:2). Not that we are sufficient of ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God (3:5). The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life (3:6). The Lord is the Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty (3:17). We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake (4:5). We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the exceeding greatness of the power may be of God, and not from ourselves (4:7). Our light affliction, which is for the moment, worketh for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory (4:17). We know that if the earthly house of our tabernacle be dissolved, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal, in the heavens (5:1). We walk by faith, not by sight (5:7). We must all be made manifest before the judgment seat of Christ (5:10). The love of Christ constraineth us, because we thus judge, that one died for all, therefore all died (5:14). And he died for all, that they who live should no longer live unto themselves, but unto him who for their sakes died and rose again (5:15). If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature: the old things are passed away; behold, they are become new (5:17). God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not reckoning unto them their trespasses, and having committed unto us the word of reconciliation (5:19). We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be ye reconciled to God (5:20). Him who knew no sin he made to be sin in our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in him (5:21). Be not unequally yoked with unbelievers (6:14). I am filled with comfort, I overflow with joy in all our affliction (7:4). Godly sorrow worketh repentance unto salvation, but the sorrow of the world worketh death (7:10). Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might become rich (8:9). He that soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he that soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully (9:6). God loveth a cheerful giver (9:7). He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord (10:17). Not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth (10:18). My grace is sufficient for thee; for my power is made perfect in weakness (12:9). We can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth (13:8). The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all (13:14).



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