This letter of Paul (and it, like Romans, is an undisputed Pauline epistle) is extraordinarily important for the light it sheds on the situation of the early Church. More than Acts, or any of Paulís other letters, in this letter we have a window open wide on the life, practice, and struggle of early Christians. The most extraordinary thing about those struggles is that they are, in essence, the same struggles the Church has throughout its history and today.
Paul wrote this letter in a direct effort to correct the problems that had arisen in the Church. Sometime around the year 56 Paul penned this letter. He had, you will recall, established the Church there around 5 years earlier- and in that short time a multitude of problems had arisen which Paul found it necessary to address. The source of these problems was the Corinthiansí not to distant past in paganism. The city of Corinth was one of the most corrupt of the ancient world. It housed every sort of deviant and pervert. It was the home of 100ís of pagan temples, all engaged in orgiastic religions. In this atmosphere of pagan licentiousness Paul had delivered the gospel and they had received it. Unfortunately, they had mixed their paganism into their Christianity and the result was a hodgepodge syncretism which was neither pagan or Christian.
Paul wrote 1 Corinthians to address this syncretism and in an effort to restore them to a moral base. The outline of the book shows Paulís concern quite clearly:
1- Greeting and Reminder of Christian Life (1:1-9)
2- Splinter Groups in the Church and the Divisiveness they Cause (1:10-4:21)
3- Their Syncretistic Lifestyles (5:1-11:34)
4- The Cure for Immorality (12:1-14:40)
5- The Inappropriateness of Immorality in the Light of Immortality (15:1-58)
6- The Collection- Proof of their True Spirituality (16:1-18)
7- Closing Exhortations (16:19-24)
In spite of the brilliance of Paulís argument, the situation at Corinth did not measurably improve. In fact, in short order, Paul received word that the Corinthians were doing worse than ever! This necessitated another letter, which has now been lost. Paul received another report and he was gladdened that they had "seen the light". In response to this changed situation, Paul penned 2 Corinthians over a period of several months. It is that letter which shall occupy us next.
ASSIGNMENT: Introduction, chapter 23.
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