THE FIRST EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS.
Of this epistle Luther writes, in his succinct way: "In this epistle St. Paul admonishes the Corinthians that they should be harmonious in faith and in doctrine, and attend to it that they learn this chief part well, namely, that Christ is our salvation, in whom all reason and wisdom is offended." 1)
The author of this letter, as he himself states, is Paul the Apostle, chap. 1, 1. He was writing to the Christian congregation at Corinth, in Achaia. Paul had come to this city on his second missionary journey, Acts 18, 1, about 50 or 51 A. D. Corinth was the commercial center of Greece, but also a hotbed of corruption and vice, "the heiress of a glorious history, whose monuments in metal and marble glorified the gods of Greece; the mother of thriving colonies and the capital of the Roman province of Achaia; an emporium of the world's commerce, swarming with strangers and workers in various manufactures; a queen of style and of luxury, teeming with voluptuousness and lasciviousness, her idolatry horrible lewdness, in consequence of which the Corinthian custom had become proverbial even among the heathen to designate the acme of baseness; reveling in riches and incidentally full of the misery of abused slaves, also intoxicated with the conceit of wisdom and the enjoyment of art." 2) To this infamous notoriety not only the cosmopolitanism of the city contributed, but the open consecration of shameless impurity in its temple service of Venus.
And yet the Lord, through the work of Paul's preaching, had established a Christian congregation in this city, Acts 18, 7—11. His converts were mainly Gentiles, who, for the most part, belonged to the poorer classes of society. The members of the Corinthian congregation, due, in part, to their environment, were somewhat subject to arrogance and self-conceit, chap. 1, 17; 8, 1, and had not yet fully thrown off the dominance of sins of unchastity, chap. 5, 1—11; 6, 15—18; 11,21. After a year and a half of a signally blessed ministry, Paul continued his travels, the eloquent Apollos soon taking his place in Corinth, Acts 18, 24—19, 1; 1 Cor. 3, 5—9. But in the course of the next years some Jewish Christians also came to Corinth. These men belonged to the so-called Judaizing class, boasted of their intimacy with Peter and James, insisted upon the keeping of the ceremonial law, questioned Paul's apostle-ship, and otherwise scattered the seed of dissension. On this account, and because many of the Corinthian Christians were unduly influenced by the brilliancy of Apollos, factions were formed in the congregation which tended to disrupt the entire work of Paul, 1 Cor. 1, 10—12; 3,18.104.22.168; 4,1—5; 11,18. As a result, various evils appeared, such as laxity in church discipline, chap. 5, 1—5; a growing indifference with regard to the sins of unchastity, chap. 6, 9. 13—19; members of the congregation brought suits in the civil courts against one another, chap. 6, 1; Christian liberty was abused by participation in feasts of idolatry, chap. 8; 10, 14—33; the celebration of the Holy Communion was desecrated through abuses and uncharitable behavior, chap. 11, 17—22; the wonderful gifts of grace were not always used for the edification of the congregation, chaps. 12 and 14; some even denied the resurrection of the dead, chap. 15, 12.
These disquieting facts had been brought to the attention of Paul, partly through individual members of the Corinthian congregation, 1 Cor. 1, 11; 5, 1; 11, 18; 15, 12; partly through a letter which the Corinthian Christians had addressed to him, with questions concerning celibacy, divorce, the eating of meat from heathen sacrifices, and the use of the gifts of the Spirit. All these facts determined Paul to write his First Epistle to the Corinthians, which he did at Ephesus, at the end of his three years' sojourn, chap. 16, 3. 4. 8. 19, probably about Easter of the year 56. The letter was very likely delivered to the congregation at Corinth through their own representatives, Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, chap. 16, 15—17, or through Timothy, 1 Cor. 4, 17; 16, 10.3)
The contents of the letter may be briefly summarized as follows. After the salutation and an introductory thanksgiving, Paul exhorts the Corinthians to unity, and reproves their dissensions and factions. He then gives them some instructions concerning church discipline, rebuking the indifference with which the members had permitted the scandal to continue in their midst unreproved. He shows them that litigation of Christians with one another before the heathen courts is not permissible, and gives some information on matters pertaining to the Sixth Commandment and to the state of marriage. He dwells at length upon the duty of supporting the ministry, warns against carnal security, points out the proper decorum in church assemblies, especially during the celebration of the Eucharist. He instructs them concerning the use of spiritual gifts for the edification of the congregation, gives directions about the collection to be taken for the poor Christians in Jerusalem, and closes with recommendations and greetings.