Introduction to 1 Corinthians

There may not have been a more troubled church in the first century than the church in Corinth. In his first letter to them, Paul corrects their errors, answers their questions, and encourages them with statements of confidence. Before studying the letter, let us highlight some matters of background and introduction: the recipients, writer, date, and purpose of the letter.

I. Recipients

A. “The church of God which is at Corinth” (1:2)

B. The congregation began through the work of Paul, Silas, and Timothy on Paul’s second evangelistic journey (Acts 18).

1. Paul arrived in Corinth after leaving Athens (18:1).

2. He stayed with and worked alongside Aquila and Priscilla as tentmakers (18:2-3).

3. He spoke each Sabbath Day in the local synagogue, but was largely rejected (18:4-6).

4. After this, he localized his teaching in a house right next to the synagogue and converted many, including the ruler of the synagogue (18:7-8).

5. Though uneasy about staying, he remained a year and a half (18:9-11; 1 Cor. 2:3-5).

6. Typically for Paul, Jewish opposition caused trouble for him and he eventually moved on (18:12-18).

C. Corinth was a wicked city. Out of that wickedness and depravity would come those who made up the church there (1 Cor. 6:9-11; note: “such were some of you”).

II. Writer

A. Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ (1:1)

B. Virtually no one, not even the most vehement critics of the Bible, question the authorship of the book.

III. Date

A. The letter was written from Ephesus (1 Cor. 16:8).

B. But since Paul’s first visit to Ephesus was short (Acts 18:19-21), it is unlikely that he wrote this letter then. However, he spent 3 years there on his third journey (Acts 19:1-41; 20:31). The letter was probably written during that time.

IV. Purpose

A. The church at Corinth was a troubled group. Some concerned members had written Paul a letter informing him of existing problems (1:11; 15:12). In addition, there had been additional correspondence from the church to Paul that included a number of questions that needed answers (7:1).

B. The book outlines itself rather easily as Paul moves from one problem to the next:

1. Division (1-4)

2. Immorality (5)

3. Lawsuits (6)

4. Marriage Questions (7)

5. Matters of Christian Liberty (8-10)

6. Disorder in Worship (11)

7. Spiritual Gifts (12-14)

8. The Resurrection (15)

9. Personal Matters (16)

V. Practical Lessons

A. Congregations will have problems as long as they consist of people.

B. The world sometimes influences the church more than the church influences the world.

C. Congregational leadership cannot ignore problems.

D. Though the ideal is to avoid problems, they can be beneficial (11:19).