The apostle Paul wrote this letter by inspiration of God at the close of his three-year ministry at Ephesus (1 Cor 16:5-8) in about 58 AD. It is the longest epistle in the NT with 16 chapters, 437 verses, and 9,489 words. The record of how the Lord used him to start the church at Corinth during his second missionary journey is found in Acts 18. It was started next door to the Jewish synagogue. God gave the church all the sign gifts to provoke the unbelieving Jews to jealousy (Rom 11). It became one of the largest and wealthiest churches that Paul started and yet it was the most carnal.
Romans through Galatians go together concerning the doctrine of salvation. This is a letter of reproof dealing with conduct that is not in line with the doctrine set forth in Romans. However, there are great doctrinal passages found in this epistle as well (e.g., resurrection in chapter 15).
Corinth was the capital city of the Roman province of Achaia, the 4th largest city in the Roman Empire. It had a population of about 200,000 (primarily Greek, Roman, and Oriental). Located on the narrow isthmus between the Aegean and Adriatic Seas, having a harbor on each side it was a port city and a wealthy commercial center. It had an outdoor theater that could seat 20,000 people where it hosted athletic games that were second only to the Olympic Games. It also had a great temple dedicated to Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of sexuality. The temple had a thousand prostitutes and fornication was part of their pagan worship. Corinth was so notorious for its immorality that there was actually a term in the Greek language for fornicators that meant to “act the Corinthian.” Corinth was known for its commerce, culture, and corruption. Today it is just a small fishing ‘Village because “the fashion of this world passeth away” (1 Cor 7:31). The church at Corinth was being more conformed to the world around them than they were being transformed by the truth Paul had taught them. We too live in the midst of a corrupt culture but we are to shine as lights in this dark world (Phile 2:12-16).
Paul had already written at least one letter to this church (1 Cor 5:9), so not everything he wrote was inspired of God (13 epistles were). He wrote this letter for two primary reasons: to address the problems he heard about in the church at Corinth (1 Cor 1:11; 5:1) and to answer the questions they had written to him about (1 Cor 7:1; 8:1; 12:1; 16:1). Before he answers their questions, he deals with the problems and gets to the root of it all: they were carnal (1 Cor 3:1-3). Sound doctrine can only be lived out by the power of the Spirit.
There are three kinds of people:
Natural (1 Cor 2:14) — those without the Spirit
Spiritual (1 Cor 2:15-16) — those in the Spirit that also walk in the Spirit
Carnal (1 Cor 3:1-3) — those in the Spirit that walk after the flesh
Every chapter in this epistle deals with a problem. Although it is a negative letter it does start out with a positive introduction (1 Cor 1:1-9). Thank God that a wrong state cannot affect our right standing in Christ. Paul does not thank God for their conduct as he does for the Thessalonians. He thanks God for the grace He has given them (1 Cor 1:4).
This epistle has been called the troubleshooting manual of the local church. God did not put this letter in the Bible so that the errors of the church at Corinth would be remembered forever, but because He knew these same problems would exist in the local church throughout the present dispensation of grace, especially in the last days (2 Tim 3:1-5).
Addressing Problems and Answering Questions (1:10-16:4)
Division in the church (1-3)
Influence of worldly wisdom (1-3)
Wrong perspective of the ministry (3-4)
Inability to judge and solve disputes between brethren (6)
Women not showing submission (11)
Abuse of the Lord’s Supper (11)
False doctrine, denying bodily resurrection (15)
Marriage, divorce, and remarriage (7)
Eating meat offered to idols (8-10)
Spiritual gifts (12-14)
The collection (16)
Great dispensational passages:
The mystery (2:6-16)
The judgment seat of Christ (3:10-17)
Following Paul (4:16-17; 7:17; 11:1; 14:37)
The Body of Christ (12:12-13)
Sign gifts shall cease— 13:8-13
The gospel — 15:1-4
The rapture— 15:51-52
Principles that should govern our decisions:
Is it expedient? (6:12a)
Can it bring me under bondage? (6:12b)
Will it be a stumbling-block to others? (8:9)
Is it spiritually edifying? (10:23)
Does it glorify God? (10:31)