This is a letter from Paul to the Christians in Corinth, in response to a letter they had sent to him asking about various issues connected to worship and ethics. There is also a hint that Paul had received an independent report from ‘Chloe’s people’ to which he was also responding. The heart of Paul’s answer in chapters 12–13 is that they should approach all the ethical dilemmas that they faced and all the conflict that they were experiencing in the knowledge that they were all members of the body of Christ and that they should behave towards one another with love.
For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1.18)
Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? (1 Corinthians 3.16)
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant; or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things … For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13.4–7, 12–13)
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures. (1 Corinthians 15.3–4)
And many more ...
Paul is probably the best-known of all the early Christians. Before encountering Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus, he was a zealous Pharisee who sought to maintain the purity of Judaism. After his experience on the Damascus road, he turned his zeal to proclaiming Jesus Christ among the Gentiles. This brought him into conflict with some other early Christians, not least Peter, who thought that followers of Jesus Christ should convert to Judaism. He travelled around the Roman Empire (though primarily in Asia Minor – modern-day Turkey – and Greece) proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ and founding communities of Christians as he went. He also wrote a large number of letters, 13 of which are preserved in the New Testament. 1 Corinthians is one of these.
Sosthenes: The only other time that someone called Sosthenes is mentioned in the New Testament is in Acts 18.12–17 where Sosthenes is the chief ruler of the synagogue at Corinth. While this would make sense of him writing with Paul, there is nothing to explain why he had left Corinth and was now travelling with him.
The relationship between the Corinthians and Paul was notoriously rocky (and in fact degenerated further after this letter). The Corinthians seemed to be highly confident in their faith – you might say too confident – and were behaving with little consideration towards each other. Some think that the Corinthians believed that they had already risen from the dead and were behaving as though they were already triumphant.
There will be lots of names you will not know; don’t worry if you can’t place them all. The key ones are given below.
Galatia, Macedonia, Achaia, Asia, Asia Minor, Corinth, Ephesus, Jerusalem, Macedonia
Sosthenes, Chloe, Apollos, Cephas, Gaius, Stephanas, Timothy, Barnabas, Crispus, Israel, James (Jesus’ brother), Moses, Prisca
Altar, Feast of unleavened bread, food offered to idols, Gentiles, Gospel, idols