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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
Corinthians, First Epistle to the
1. The testimony of Christian antiquity is full and unanimous in ascribing this inspired production to the pen of the apostle Paul (Lardner's Credibility, Works, vol. 2, plur. loc.; see also Heydenreich, Comment. in priorem D. Pauli ad Cor. epist. Proleg. p. 30; Schott, Isaqoge in N.T. p. 236, 239 sq.). The external evidences (Clem. Rom. ad Cor. ch. 47, 48; Polycarp, ad Phil. ch. 11; Ignat. ad Eph. ch. 2; Irenaeus, Haer. 3, 11, 9; 4:27, 3; Athenag. de Resurr. p. 61, ed. Col.; Clem. Alex. Paedag. 1:33; Tertull. de Praeser. ch. 33) are extremely distinct, and with this the internal evidence arising from allusions, undesigned coincidences, style, and tone of thought fully accords (see Davidson, Introd. 2:253 sq.).
2. The epistle seems to have been occasioned partly by some intelligence received by the apostle concerning the Corinthian church from the domestics of Chloe, a pious female connected with that church (1 Corinthians 1:11), and probably also from common report (ἀκούεται,v, i), and partly by an epistle which the Corinthians themselves had addressed to the apostle, asking advice and instruction on several points (1 Corinthians 7:1), and which probably was conveyed to him by Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus (1 Corinthians 16:17). Apollos, also, who succeeded the apostle at Corinth, but who seems to have been with him at the time this epistle was written (1 Corinthians 16:12), may have given him information of the state of things among the Christians in that city. From these sources the apostle had become acquainted with the painful fact that since he had left Corinth (Acts 18:18), the church in that place had sunk into a state of great corruption and error. One prime source of this evil state of things, and in itself an evil of no inferior magnitude, was the existence of schisms or party divisions in the church. "Everyone of you," Paul tells them, "saith I am of Paul, and I of Apollos, and I of Cephas, and I of Christ" (1 Corinthians 1:12). This has led to the conclusion that four great parties had arisen in the church, which boasted of Paul, Apollos, Peter, and Christ as their respective heads. By what peculiarities of sentiment these parties may be supposed to have been distinguished from each other it is not difficult, with the exception of the last, to conjecture. It appears that the schisms arose merely from quarrels among the Corinthians as to the comparative excellence of their respective teachers — those who had learned of Paul boasting that he excelled all others, and the converts of Apollos and Peter advancing a similar claim for them, while a fourth party haughtily repudiated all subordinate teaching, and pretended that they derived all their religious knowledge from the direct teaching of Christ. The language of the apostle in the first four chapters, where alone he speaks directly of these schisms, and where he resolves their criminality, not into their relation to false doctrine, but into their having their source in a disposition to glory in men, must be regarded as greatly favoring this view. (Comp. also 2 Corinthians 5:16.)
The few facts supplied to us by the Acts of the Apostles, and the notices in the epistle, appear to be as follows: The Corinthian church was planted by the apostle himself (1 Corinthians 3:6) in his second missionary journey, after his departure from Athens (Acts 18:1 sq.). He abode in the city a year and a half (Acts 18:11), at first in the house of Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:3), and afterwards, apparently to mark emphatically the factious nature of the conduct of the Jews, in the house of the proselyte Justus. A short time after the apostle had left the city the eloquent Jew of Alexandria, Apollos, after having received, when at Ephesus, more exact instruction in the Gospel from Aquila and Priscilla, went to Corinth (Acts 19:1), where he preached, as we may perhaps infer from Paul's comments on his own mode of preaching, in a manner marked by unusual eloquence and persuasiveness (comp. 1 Corinthians 2:1; 1 Corinthians 2:4). There is, however, no reason for concluding that the substance of the teaching was in any respect different from that of Paul (see 1 Corinthians 1:18; 1 Corinthians 16:12). This circumstance of the visit of Apollos, owing to the sensuous and carnal spirit which marked the church of Corinth, appears to have formed the commencement of a gradual division into two parties, the followers of Paul, and the followers of Apollos (comp. 1 Corinthians 4:6). These divisions, however, were to be multiplied; for, as it would seem, shortly after the departure of Apollos, Judaizing teachers, supplied probably with letters of commendation (2 Corinthians 3:1) from the church of Jerusalem, appear to have come to Corinth, and to have preached the Gospel in a spirit of direct antagonism to Paul personally, in every way seeking to depress his claims to be considered an apostle (1 Corinthians 11:2), and to exalt those of the Twelve, and perhaps especially of Peter (ch. 1:12). To this third party, which appears to have been characterized by a spirit of excessive bitterness and faction, we may perhaps add a fourth, that, under the name of "the followers of Christ" (1 Corinthians 1:12), sought at first to separate themselves from the factious adherence to particular teachers, but were eventually driven by antagonism into positions equally sectarian and inimical to the unity of the church. At this momentous period, before parties had become consolidated, and had distinctly withdrawn from communion with one another, the apostle writes; and in the outset of the epistle (ch. 1-4, 12) we have his noble and impassioned protest against this fourfold rending of the robe of Christ. This spirit of division appears, by the good providence of God, to have eventually yielded to his apostolic rebuke, as it is noticeable that Clement of Rome, in his epistle to this church (ch. 47), alludes to these evils as long past, and as but slight compared to those which existed in his own time. (See DIVISIONS (IN THE CHURCH AT CORINTH).)
Besides the schisms and the erroneous opinions which had invaded the church at Corinth, the apostle had learned that many immoral and disorderly practices were tolerated among them, and were in some cases defended by them. A connection of a grossly incestuous character had been formed by one of the members, and gloried in by his brethren, (1 Corinthians 5:1-2); lawsuits before heathen judges were instituted by one Christian against another (1 Corinthians 6:1); licentious indulgence was not so firmly denounced and so carefully avoided as the purity of Christianity required (1 Corinthians 6:9-20); the public meetings of the brethren were brought into disrepute by the women appearing in them unveiled (1 Corinthians 11:3-10), and were disturbed by the confused and disorderly manner in which the persons possessing spiritual Gifts chose to exercise them (1 Corinthians 12-14); and, in fine, the ἀγάπαι, which were designed to be scenes of love and union, became occasions for greater contention through the selfishness of the wealthier members, who, instead of sharing in a common meal with the poorer, brought each his own repast, and partook of it by himself, often to excess, while his needy brother was left to fast (1 Corinthians 11:20-34). The judgment of the apostle had also been solicited by the Corinthians concerning the comparative advantages of the married and the celibate state (1 Corinthians 7:1-40), as well as, apparently, the duty of Christians in relation to the use for food of meat which had been offered to idols (1 Corinthians 8:1-13). For the correction of these errors, the remedying of these disorders, and the solution of these doubts, this epistle was written by the apostle.
3. The epistle consists of four parts. The first (1-4) is designed to reclaim the Corinthians from schismatic contentions; the second (5-6) is directed against the immoralities of the Corinthians; the third (7-14) contains replies to the queries addressed to Paul by the Corinthians, and strictures upon the disorders which prevailed in their worship; and the fourth (15-16) contains an elaborate defense of the Christian doctrine of the resurrection, followed in the close of the epistle by some general instructions, intimations, and greetings.
The apostle opens with his usual salutation and with an expression of thankfulness for their general state of Christian progress (1 Corinthians 1:1-9). He then at once passes on to the lamentable divisions there were among them, and incidentally justifies his own conduct and mode of preaching (1 Corinthians 1:10; 1 Corinthians 4:16), concluding with a notice of the mission of Timothy, and of an intended authoritative visit on his own part (1 Corinthians 4:17-21). The apostle next deals with the case of incest that had taken place among them, and had provoked no censure (1 Corinthians 5:1-8), noticing, as he passes, some previous remarks he had made upon not keeping company with fornicators (1 Corinthians 5:9-13). He then comments on their evil practice of litigation before heathen tribunals (1 Corinthians 6:1-8), and again reverts to the plague-spot in Corinthian life, fornication and uncleanness (1 Corinthians 6:9-20). The last subject naturally paves the way for his answers to their inquiries about marriage (1 Corinthians 7:1-24), and about the celibacy of virgins and widows (1 Corinthians 7:25-40). The apostle next makes a transition to the subject of the lawfulness of eating things sacrificed to idols. and Christian freedom generally (1 Corinthians 8), which leads, not unnaturally, to a digression on the manner in which he waved his apostolic privileges and performed his apostolic duties (1 Corinthians 9). He then reverts to and concludes the subject of the use of things offered to idols (1 Corinthians 10-11 1), and passes onward to reprove his converts for their behavior in the assemblies of the church, both in respect to women prophesying and praying with uncovered heads (1 Corinthians 11:2-16), and also their great irregularities in the celebration of the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 11:17-34). Then follow full and minute instructions on the exercise of spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12-14), in which is included the noble panegyric of charity (1 Corinthians 13), and further a defense of the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, about which doubts and difficulties appear to have arisen in this unhappily divided church (1 Corinthians 15). The epistle closes with some directions concerning the contributions for the saints at Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 16:1-4), brief notices of his own intended movements (1 Corinthians 16:5-9), commendation to them of Timothy and others; (1 Corinthians 16:10-18), greetings from the benediction (1 Corinthians 16:21-24).
4. From an expression of the apostle in 1 Corinthians 5:9, it has been inferred by many that the present was not the first epistle addressed by Paul to the Corinthians, but that it was preceded by one now lost. For this opinion, however, the words in question afford a very unsatisfactory basis. They are as follows: ἔγραψα ὑμῖν ἐν τ῝ῇ ἐπιστολῇ, κ . τ . 50 · Now these words must be rendered either "I have written to you in this epistle," or "I wrote to you in thy epistle;" and our choice between these two renderings will depend partly on grammatical and partly on historical grounds. As the aorist ἔγραψα may mean either "I wrote" or "I have written," nothing can be concluded from it in either way. It may be doubted, however, whether, had the apostle intended to refer to a former epistle, he would have used the article τῇ simply, without adding προτέρᾷ, "former;" while, on the other hand, there are cases which clearly show that, had the apostle intended to refer to the present epistle, it was in accordance with his practice to use the article in the sense of "this" (comp. ἡ ἐπιστολή, Colossians 4:16, τὴν ἐπιστ . 1 Thessalonians 5:27). In support of this conclusion it may be added,
1st, that the apostle had really in this epistle given the prohibition to which he refers, viz., in the verses immediately preceding that under notice; and that his design in the verses which follow is so to explain that prohibition as to preclude the risk of their supposing that he meant by it anything else than that in the church they should not mingle with immoral persons;
2d, that it is not a little strange that the: apostle should, only in this cursory and incidental manner, refer to a circumstance so important in its bearing upon the case of the Corinthians as his having already addressed them on their sinful practices; and,
3d, that, had such an epistle ever existed, it may be supposed that some hint of its existence would have been found in the records of the primitive Church, which is not the case. Alford, indeed (Comment. in 2 Corinthians 1:16), thinks that 1 Corinthians 4:18, contains an allusion likewise to the lost letter, but the information there spoken of may easily have been otherwise communicated. On these grounds we strongly incline to the opinion that the present is the first epistle which Paul addressed to the Corinthians (Bloomfield, Recensio a Synopt. in taken by Lange (Apost. Zeitalt. 1:205) and others.
5. There is a general agreement as to the date (at least the place) of this epistle. It was written from Ephesus (1 Corinthians 16:8), probably about the time of Passover (1 Corinthians 5:7-8) of the apostle's third year there (Acts 19:10; Acts 20:31), after his first severe treatment (chap. 15:32; Acts 19:9) had somewhat abated (1 Corinthians 16:9; Acts 19:17), and when he had formed the purpose of a journey through Macedonia and Greece (1 Corinthians 16:5; Acts 19:21), and before the culminating act of mobbing (which cannot in any case be referred to in 1 Corinthians 15:32, since the apostle was still in Asia, 1 Corinthians 16:19; and he mentions this incident in his next letter as a special piece of news, 2 Corinthians 1:8), that only served to expedite his plan (Acts 20:1; comp. 19:29). (See ACTS). This opinion is further verified by the following coincidences: [chap. 1:1, "Sosthenes" here was a CHRISTIAN, and therefore different from the president of the synagogue at Corinth, Acts 18:17] 1 Corinthians 1:11-16; 1 Corinthians 2:1; 1 Corinthians 3:1-6, Paul had left the Corinthian church in its infancy some time since, and Apollos had visited them meanwhile (Acts 18:18; Acts 19:1); 1 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Corinthians 4:19; 1 Corinthians 16:10-11, Paul had just sent Timothy to them, and designed visiting them himself shortly (Acts 19:21-22; Acts 20:1-2); 1 Corinthians 15:32, he had some time previously been violently opposed (ἐμάχησα ) at Ephesus (Acts 19:9); 1 Corinthians 16:1, he had visited Galatia not very long before (Acts 18:23); 1 Corinthians 16:5-7, he was about to set out for Macedonia, and thence to Corinth, where he designed to spend the coming winter (Acts 20:1-3); 1 Corinthians 16:8, he still expected to stay (ἐπιμενῶ ) at Ephesus till Pentecost, which stay was prolonged till the uproar about Diana (Acts 19:22-23); 1 Corinthians 16:3-4, he afterwards designed to visit Jerusalem (Acts 19:21) [1 Corinthians 16:12, Apollos was at this time in the vicinity of Paul, but was not about to revisit Corinth just yet, Acts 19:1]; 1 Corinthians 16:19, Paul was surrounded by the churches of Asia, in the capital of which Aquila and Priscilla were now settled (Acts 18:18-19; Acts 18:26). Finally, the subscription (so far as of any authority) agrees with all this (comp. 1 Corinthians 16:17), except as to Timothy, who was then on his way to Corinth (1 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Corinthians 16:10) [for from 2 Corinthians 8:17-18, it does not necessarily follow that Timothy (even supposing him to be there alluded to) did not visit Corinth till afterwards]; and also except as to the date at Philippi (the best copies read Ephesus), an error of tradition apparently arising from the fact that Paul was doubtless expecting to pass through (διέρχομαι ) that city (Acts 20:6). (See TIMOTHY). (Comp. Conybeare and Howson's Life and Epistles of St. Paul, 2:33). The date assigned this epistle by the foregoing particulars is the spring of A.D. 54. The bearers were probably (according to the common subscription) Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, who had been recently sent to the apostle, and who, in the conclusion of this epistle (1 Corinthians 16:17), are especially commended to the honorable regard of the church of Corinth. For commentaries, see below. Of treatises on special points we may name the following (in Latin): those of Faust on the alleged lost epistle (Argent. 1671); on the schisms of the Corinthian Church, Dorscheus (Hafn. 1722), Mosheim (Helmst. 1726), Schongard (Hafn. 1733), Vitringa (Obs. sacr. 3, 800 sq.); on "leading about a wife," Quistorp (Rost. 1692), Witte (Viteb. 1691); on other national allusions, Olearius (Lips. 1807), Schlaeger (Helmst. 1739), Wolle (Lips. 1731). (See PAUL).
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Corinthians, First Epistle to the'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/c/corinthians-first-epistle-to-the.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.
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