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Bible Dictionaries

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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Epistles to. St. Paul left Corinth A.D. 53 or 54, and went to Jerusalem. From Ephesus he wrote his First Epistle to the Corinthians, in the beginning of A.D. 56. In this epistle he reproves some who disturbed the peace of the church, complains of some disorders in their assemblies, of law suits among them, and of a Christian who had committed incest with his mother-in-law, the wife of his father, and had not been separated from the church. This letter produced in the Corinthians great grief, vigilance against the vices reproved, and a very beneficial dread of God's anger. They repaired the scandal, and expressed abundant zeal against the crime committed, 2 Corinthians 7:9-11 .

To form an idea of the condition of the Corinthian church, we must examine the epistles of the Apostle. The different factions into which they were divided, exalted above all others the chiefs, τους υπερ λιαν αποστολους [the very chiefest Apostles,] 2 Corinthians 11:5; 2 Corinthians 12:11 , whose notions they adopted, and whose doctrines they professed to follow, and attempted to depreciate those of the opposite party. While, then, some called themselves disciples of Paul, Cephas, or Apollos, others assumed the splendid appellation of Christ's party. Probably they affected to be the followers of James, the brother of our Lord, and thought thus to enter into a nearer discipleship with Jesus than the other parties. The controversy, as we shall see from the whole, related to the obligation of Judaism. The advocates of it had appealed, even in Galatia, to Cephas and James, for the sake of opposing to Paul, who had banished Jewish ceremonies from Christianity, authorities which were not less admitted than his own. The question itself divided all these various parties into two principal factions: the partisans of Cephas and James were for the law; the friends of Paul adopted his opinion, as well as Apollos, who, with his adherents, was always in heart in favour of Paul, and never wished to take a part in a separation from him, 1 Corinthians 16:12 . The leaders of the party against Paul, these ψευδαποστολοι , [false apostles,] as Paul calls them, and μετασχηματιζομενοι εις αποστολους Χριστου , [transformers of themselves into the apostles of Christ,] who declared themselves the promulgators and defenders of the doctrines of Cephas, and James, were, as may be easily conceived, converted Jews, 2 Corinthians 11:22 , who had come from different places,—to all appearance from Palestine, ερχομενοι , [the comers,] 2 Corinthians 11:4 ,—and could therefore boast of having had intercourse with the Apostles at Jerusalem, and of an acquaintance with their principles. They were not even of the orthodox Jews, but those who adhered to the doctrines of the Sadducees; and though they were even now converted to Christianity, while they spoke zealously in favour of the law, they were undermining the hopes of the pious, and exciting doubts against the resurrection, 1 Corinthians 15:35; so that Paul, from regard to the teachers, whose disciples they professed to be, was obliged to refute them from the testimony of James and Cephas, 1 Corinthians 15:5; 1 Corinthians 15:7 . These, proud of their own opinions, 1 Corinthians 1:17 , not without private views, depreciated Paul's authority, and extolled their own knowledge, 1 Corinthians 2:12; 2 Corinthians 11:16-17 . Violently as the contest was carried on, they still did not withdraw from the same place of assembly for instruction and mutual edification; this, however, was even the cause of too many scandalous scenes and disorders. At the αγαπαι , love feasts, love and benevolence were no where to be seen. Instead of eating together, and refreshing their poor brethren out of that which they had brought with them, each one, as he came, ate his own, without waiting for any one else, and feasted often to excess, while the needy was fasting, 1 Corinthians 11:17 . When also some were preparing for prayers or singing, others raised their voices to instruct, and commenced exercises in spiritual gifts, tongues, prophesyings, and interpretations, 1 Corinthians 7, 13, 14; moreover, the women, to bring confusion to its highest pitch, took their part in interlocutions and proposals of questions, 1 Corinthians 14:34 .

Such was the state of things as to the interior discipline of the assemblies and edification; but the exterior deportment, which the members of this society had maintained in civil life, soon disappeared also, Formerly, when differences arose among the believers, they were adjusted by the intervention of arbitrators from their own communion, and terminated quietly. Now, as their mutual confidence in each other more and more decreased, they brought, to the disgrace of Christianity, their complaints before the Pagan tribunals, 1 Corinthians 6:1 . But as to what concerned the main object, namely, the obligation of Judaism, it was so little confined simply to words and reasons, that each party rather strove to display its opposite principles in its conduct. One party gave to the other, as much as possible, motives for ill will and reproach. The Jews required circumcision as an indispensable act of religion; while Paul's disciples attempted to lay the foundation of a new doctrine respecting it, and to extinguish all traces of circumcision, 1 Corinthians 7:18 . As the Jewish party observed and maintained a distinction of meats, that of Paul ate without distinction any thing sold in the markets, and even meats from the Heathen sacrifices, 1 Corinthians 10:25; 1 Corinthians 10:28; 1 Corinthians 8:1 . Nor was this enough; they often made no scruple to be present at the sacrificial feasts. Among other things, they also took part in many scandalous practices which were common there, and fell, by means of their imprudence, into still greater crimes, 1 Corinthians 10:20-21; 1 Corinthians 8:10 . According to the Jewish custom, the women were obliged to appear veiled in the synagogues and public assemblies. The anti-judaists abolished this custom of the synagogue, 1 Corinthians 11:5-6; 1 Corinthians 11:10; and herein imitated the Heathen practices. From despite to Judaism, which considered matrimonial offspring as a particular blessing of God, some embraced celibacy, which they justified by St. Paul's example, 1 Corinthians 7:7-8; and this they also recommended to others, 1 Corinthians 7:1-25 . Some went even so far, that, although married, they resolved to practise a continual continency, 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 . These were the evils, both in his own party and in that of his opponents, which St. Paul had to remedy.

Paul, having understood the good effects of his first letter among the Corinthians, wrote a second to them, A.D. 57, from Macedonia, and probably from Philippi. He expresses his satisfaction at their conduct, justifies himself, and comforts them. He glories in his suffering, and exhorts them to liberality. Near the end of the year 57, he came again to Corinth, where he staid about three months, and whence he went to Jerusalem. Just before his second departure from Corinth, he wrote his Epistle to the Romans, probably in the beginning of A.D. 58.

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Corinthians'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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