The books of First and Second Corinthians comprise the largest body of Paul’s writings.
Paul wrote First Corinthians on his third missionary journey (Acts 19:1 – 21:16) while still in Ephesus (1 Corinthians16:8). It was written to the Christians in Corinth, a major city of Greece. The metropolis was decidedly Roman in its customs, and decidedly worldly in everything. It was impressive with its architecture and, as one of three banking centers in Greece, exceedingly rich. One writer puts it like this: “The only Corinthian tradition . . . respected was commercial success. It was every man for himself and the weak went to the wall.” Additionally, like all metropolises, it was a city filled with vice.
Honor and respect were hugely important. Ben Witherington writes: “The Corinthian people lived within an honor-shame cultural orientation, where public recognition was often more important than facts and where the worst thing that could happen was for one’s reputation to be publicly tarnished. In such a culture a person’s sense of worth is based on recognition of one’s accomplishments.” Interestingly, of the 1553 monuments recovered from the ancient world, 1200 of them are from Corinth.
The church was deeply divided along lines of worldly status. Some believed they could get away with anything, even if they were Christians, because of their status. Others, of lower status, made it their aim to “get back” at the uppercrust. Dr. Richard Oster writes that the church of the Corinthians “had become world based, glory motivated, and grounded in immorality.”
But, Oster continues, “there was hope, found in a detailed plan by Paul intended to bring the Corinthian church back to repentance, unity, and, most importantly, back to God. We call this plan 1 Corinthians, a letter written for the sake of restoration. . . .”
The book may be outlined as follows:
1) The importance of unity, and the status that comes from God (chapters 1-4).
2) Dealing with sin in inter-personal relationships (chapters 5-6)
3) Matters dealing with marriage (chapter 7).
4) Getting along with one another (chapters 8-10).
5) Disorders in the worship assembly (chapters 11 – 14).
6) The Resurrection (chapter 15).
7) Plans for the future (chapter 16).