Lesson 17: Introduction to FIRST CORINTHIANS
This is lesson # 17. Welcome again! And welcome to the book of First Corinthians. Please look at your map, first. Corinth is city #31. Corinth is the city from which Paul wrote the books of I & II Thessalonians that we have just completed. You will remember from the book of Acts, it was during Paul's second missionary journey that Paul established the church at Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, and then finally at Corinth. You must keep in mind that it was during Paul's third missionary journey, i. E. At a late time, that Paul write this letter we call First Corinthians. It must have been at least three years and possibly more than three years after Paul wrote the letter to the Thessalonians; that Paul wrote this letter back to Corinth.
Let's take a tour of the city of Corinth, first. Corinth, had been an outstanding city since perhaps 1000 years B.C. The city had been taken over by the Greeks' in about 338 B.C. One hundred and forty two years later, or in 196 B.C., the city of Corinth became subject to the Romans, hi spite of all the wars, Corinth had always been a prosperous city and had gown to perhaps a half million inhabitants. A city near the size of Nashville, TN. Today, population-wise. The Corinthian city administration made the terrible mistake of rebelling against the Roman Empire about 50 years later or in 146 B.C Because of this rebellion and the war that ensued the Romans destroyed the city of Corinth in 146 B. C. The Roman general was L. Mummius Achaiacus. And, when I say he destroyed the city, I mean he destroyed the city. He killed all the men, women and children were sold into slavery. All the city valuables were removed and the city was reduced to ashes. Roman control insured that the city lay in ruins for 100 years. On the 100th year, after the city was destroyed, i. e. hi 46 B.C. the well known Roman emperor, named Julius Caesar, in a kind of ceremonial scheme had the city rebuilt. I don't understand all this; but Julius Caesar in some mythical way claimed to descent from Venus, i.e. what we call the planet Venus. As part of the ceremonial pomp, Julius had the temple re-built on the mountain back of the city, called the temple of Venus. The New city of Corinth was inhabited principally, at first at least, by Roman veterans and so-called freed men, i.e. ex-slaves who had become wealthy, hi the next 100 years, the city of Corinth was largely restored and of course became a great seaport; although, the city itself was actually a mile or more from the Gulf of Corinth.
The unique thing about the city of Corinth was it's location. You probably need a better map; but, you can see this from the old map you have, used in the Acts course. Take a look at City # 31, i.e. Corinth. Notice that to the west of the city there is a body of water known as the Gulf of Corinth (why don't you write that in!). The Gulf of Corinth empties into the Ionian Sea, which is the deepest part of the Mediterranean. Now in the other direction, only five or six miles east of Corinth there was a sister city to Corinth called Cenchreae (city #32 on your map, mentioned also in Rom. 16:1, Acts 18:18.) Cenchrene was a seaport also on the Saronic Gulf which emptied into the Aegean Sea. It's all part of the Mediterranean, of course; but, the portion of the Mediterranean directly west of Corinth was called more technically the Ionian Sea. The northern portion of that body of water that separated Italy from Macedonia was called the Adriatic Sea. The ocean to the east, where Cenchreae was a seaport was called the Aegean Sea, i.e. north of the island of Crete. You can see there was a narrow strip of land called the Isthmus of Corinth, that connected Achaia to a peninsula on the south called Peloponnese, this is all part of Greece today. For reasons that only ship captains and weather men seem to understand; sailing (the only kind of ships they knew) was very hazardous certain times of the yea, particularly to the south of the Peloponeesian peninsula. At the time of Paul, Corinth became the seaport for the west and Cenchreae became the seaport for the east. It also turns out that his general location wasn't far from the geographic center of the Roman empire, so you can see that the Isthmus of Corinth was a strategic location from several points of view. The Romans had built a classy highway 506 miles long, i.e. classy for that time, that connected Cenchreae and Corinth. Cargo was unloaded at these two seaports, transported across the Isthmus of Corinth on that highway and reloaded on to other ships. This, Corinth became the Vanity Fair and the Grand Central Station of the Roman empire. If you traveled from west to east across the empire (or visa versa) you traveled through Corinth. That's where you changed ships. Thus, Corinth was a very cosmopolitan city - Many races - many languages -many religions. Business, industry, travel, and commerce just naturally gravitated to Corinth. The pagan religions and prostitution particularly got integrated some way or another in that temple of Venus, hi ancient times, it is said there were a thousand prostitutes called priestesses that operated out of that pagan temple. I'll leave to your imagination the worship that took place in that pagan temple. At the time of Paul the city was a very, very wicked place, still, the word: "Corinthian" almost had an immoral connotation attached to it.
Alright, now that you've had a tour of the grand city of Corinth; try to visualize (if you will) Paul coming to Corinth. Paul came to Corinth in the med AD 50's. The new rebuilt city of Corinth was then near 110 years old. Boats arriving and leaving at all hours and in all directions. Can you imagine such an ancient city with a half million population? Paul came there from Athens alone. Paul must have been broke and depressed; having for all practical purposes failed at planting a church in Athens. Then coming to such a large place, where people were so thick; you couldn't stir them with a stick; things must have been just as depressing for starting a congregation there. Re-read Acts 18:1-18. Turn if off! Re-read it! It would seem according to v.2, that Paul must have made friends with a Jewish man and his wife named Aquila and Priscilla almost immediately upon his arrival in Corinth. Aquila and Priscilla were what we would call displaced persons. Because they were Jews, they had been ordered out of Rome by the Roman emperor. Notice that Aquila originally came from Pontus. That's on you map, north of Galatia in central Asia Minor. They were tent makers by trade and we learn here, in v.3, that was also Paul's occupation. Whether Aquila and Priscilla were Christians before meeting Paul or not, is a good question. I would be inclined to think they may have been. It's interesting that Luke mentioned Pontus in Acts 2:9; in the list of places represented in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. Of course, we know there was a church in Rome, where they had just come from; but, of course, that really doesn't prove anything about Aquila and Priscilla. If they were not Christians when Paul met them; they were evidently soon taught and baptized. They became very close friends of the apostle Paul. They went with Paul later to Ephesus. That's down hi v.18. Evidently, they were eventually allowed to return to Rome. Paul sent them greetings in Rom. 16:3.
Paul found a synagogue there in Corinth and began as usual to reason and persuade the Jews every sabbath day (we learn in v.4). Notice this is the same pattern used in establishing the churches of Asia Minor on the first missionary tour. It was essentially the same technique used at Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea on this Paul's second missionary journey. Paul must have moved slower than usual hi Corinth at first, though. Then in v.5, a verse that we've already referred to several times in this study; when Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, it would seem Paul began to preach with more urgency. Is that the thought in v.5? Then, true to their experience in other synagogues, the Jews began to get riled, so Paul henceforth went to the Gentiles (end of v.6). Don't forget Paul had some success in converting Jews, he even converted the Chief ruler of the synagogue, we find down in v.8. When the Christian disciples left that synagogue, they began to meet next door to the synagogue in the house, owned by a man named Justice (that's in v.7). There was a common wall between the synagogue and that storefront church building at Corinth, even the location must have antagonized the synagogue Jews somewhat, maybe that' s the point. In the last part of v.8, it says: "many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized." How did the Corinthians become Christians? Check out v.8; it fits the same pattern, i.e. steps of salvation, we find throughout the book of Acts, if you remember. Paul stayed at Corinth for 18 months (v. 11) You might be interested also; that Paul did not take any money or support from the Corinthians, but made his own way as he had done at Thessalonica. You might want to read I Cor. 9:11-12 on that point. Although, Paul had the power to demand support; he said he did not use this.
Alright, maybe you would like to try to visualize a church service at Corinth in Justus' house. The ASV and others give the man's name as Titus Justus. Let's see, if would have been the first day of the week, i.e. Sunday; remember in v.4 the synagogue meeting was on Saturday, so, it's Sunday and the Christians of Corinth are meeting to worship. Either Paul or Silas no doubt, did the preaching. Try to imagine, on the front row is Titus Justice that owned the house and next to him we'll say is Crispus, the converted synagogue leader, and his family. Did you notice in v.8, it said Crispus "believed on the Lord with all his house?" Paul baptized Crispus with his own hands we learn later in I Cor. 1:14 along with another disciple named Gaius. On the second row possible Aquila, Priscilla, Timothy and maybe Silas if Paul was doing the preaching. Maybe Timothy led the singing, we don't know. Chances are Gaius, the other one Paul baptized, was in that number someplace, also. Then as we go back, there were "manhy of the Corinthians" v.8, new converts. From this beginning things continued to grow. Eventually they may have moved to a larger meeting place. Paul left, and many other things changed, I'm sure. Somewhere between two and four years later, Paul wrote what we call the book of First Corinthians back to this same church, the Corinthian camp of the saints. Are you getting picture?
Now, the beginning at Corinth was not easy. There are several clues that declare this feet. After Crispus and his family were baptized and began to worship next door; the Jews appointed another chief ruler of the synagogue to replace Crispus. That new ruler's name is down in v. 17, pronounced Sosthenes. These things must have happened concurrently with, and about the time that Paul was writing I & H Thessalonians. At the end of both of those letters, you'll recall, Paul wrote: "pray for us," and beginning in the last chapter of the second book, Paul had ask the Thessalonians to pray, "that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you." That rather implies something was hampering the word and the work at Corinth. If you read v.6 and v.7 closely, I think it implies that the man Justus was a Gentile and apparently his name verifies this also. There were other Gentiles, of course, that were not mentioned by name. No doubt after many harassments leading up to these things we read down in v. 12 that the Jews finally "made insurrection with one accord against Paul, and brought him to the judgment seat." When you get this in focus, it is essentially a replay of what happened at Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea with slight variations. Except this time Paul was brought before the deputy of Achaia according to v.l 2, i.e. a higher level civil authority than before. Right away, of course, you remember Acts 9:15,1 trust. How many days, weeks, or months these things took, we do not know; however, it's evident the Roman legal system was not exactly speedy.
All the Jewish harassment and having to go before such a civil authority must have been discouraging to say the least. When he wrote back to the church of Corinth, possible two or three years later; Paul confessed, "I was with you in weakness, and in much fear, and in much trembling: ( Cor. 2:3). We have Paul's word for it, that things got rough. It must have been during this Roman court trial episode or the conditions leading up to it; that the Lord Jesus spoke to Paul one night in a vision (Acts 18:9) and told Paul, "Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not the peace: for I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people hi this city." This would indicate that Paul had developed fears and was not speaking out. However, beyond that, there were three vital points in the Lord's message: (#1) the Lord said: "I am with thee." (#2) Paul was told, "no man shall set on thee to hurt thee." Finally, (#3) the Lord said, "I have much people in this city." If Paul had fears to the point he trembled and it kept him from speaking out as Paul confessed that he did; what more assurance could one ask. If the Lord assured you he is with you, and if he assured you that you wouldn't suffer bodily harm, and finally that many people will obey; what more could you ask for? Luke hastened to say in the next verse (v.ll) that Paul stayed there a year and a half, longer(evidently) than Paul had stayed any place before.
Someone has said, the Lord works in mysterious ways. Do you remember Paul's quote to the Thessalonians? Paul said, "Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it." (Ithess. 5:24). Paul received a promise directly from the Lord, himself. The Jews brought their case to the highest court in the district, hoping of course to suppress Paul's preaching and teaching. Since the Jews' disagreement with Paul was strictly on religious matters; one, at first, is made to wonder why the Jews would take such a dispute to the civil authority and civil rulers, as it was at the time of Jesus, evidently the Jews reasoned something like this: if we can trip Paul up in a Roman law; then the Romans will accomplish what we want, i.e. suppress Paul's teaching.
Now, we're right in the middle of Paul's going to trial. Before the proceedings start; this is probably a good tune to take a break, and, as you probably suspected, our time is out. I'll see you in lesson #18. Until then, have a good day.