Corinth was a prosperous manufacturing centre and seaport in Achaia, the southern part of Greece. A main road connected it with important towns to the north, and sea routes connected it with other ports to the east, west and south. The city was so well known for its immorality and vice that people commonly referred to a person of loose morals as one who ‘behaved like a Corinthian’. Yet Paul planted a church there, and it soon became one of the most colourful and troublesome churches of them all.
Origins of the church
Paul established the church in Corinth during his second missionary journey. He began his work there by preaching in the synagogue each Sabbath and working during the week at his trade of tentmaking (Acts 18:1-4). When the Jews forced him out of the synagogue, he went and preached in the house next door. An early convert was Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue. Another convert, Sosthenes, seems to have been the ruler of the synagogue who succeeded Crispus (Acts 18:6-8,17; 1 Cor 1:1,14). Many of the converts, however, came not from the synagogue, where there was a strong moral influence, but from the ungodly community at large, where immorality, vice and idolatry were widespread (1 Cor 1:26-27; 6:9- 11,15; 10:25-28).
During the eighteen months that Paul stayed in Corinth he suffered constant opposition, but by the time he left he had firmly established the Corinthian church (Acts 18:9-12,18). Among the churches that grew up in the region round about was one at Cenchreae, Corinth’s port area to the east (Acts 18:18; Rom 16:1).
Letters to Corinth
Some time after returning to his home church in Syria, Paul set out on his third missionary journey (Acts 18:22-23). He moved quickly to Ephesus on the west coast of Asia Minor, and stayed there for most of the next three years (Acts 19:1; 20:31). While in Ephesus, Paul heard that some of the Corinthians had moral difficulties, so he wrote them a letter to pass on helpful advice. The letter has not been preserved
(1 Cor 5:9). Paul heard also that some Corinthians had developed strong feelings against him personally, and even doubted whether he was really an
apostle. He therefore sent Timothy and Erastus to Corinth (by way of Macedonia) to deal with problems in the church (Acts 19:22; 1 Cor 4:8-13,18-21).
In the meantime some believers from Corinth arrived in Ephesus. They gave Paul the disturbing news that factions had developed in the Corinthian church because people foolishly made favourites of various teachers (1 Cor 1:10-13). Paul heard also of a serious case of sexual immorality in the church (1 Cor 5:1) and of disputes between Christians in the public law courts (1 Cor 6:1). Soon after this, a group of representatives from Corinth arrived with a letter setting out questions on a variety of issues that needed attention (1 Cor 7:1; 16:17). Among these issues were such
things as marriage, food offered to idols, the use of spiritual gifts in the church, the coming resurrection and the collection for the poor Christians in Jerusalem (1 Cor 7:1; 8:1; 12:1; 15:1; 16:1).
With all these matters before him, Paul wrote the lengthy letter that we know as 1 Corinthians. It seems that he sent the letter to Corinth direct by boat, as he expected it to arrive there before Timothy (1 Cor 16:8-10).