Date: 55 AD. Paul wrote this letter near the end of his three year stay at Ephesus. Because he mentions that he planned to remain in Ephesus until Pentecost, this means that he intended to stay less than a year, making it his final year there.
Recipients: This letter is for the church of Corinth as it addresses specific problems there. Although it is the first letter that is included in scripture, Paul had apparently written to the Corinthians previously as is indicated in 1 Corinthians 5:9.
The City of Corinth
While Athens was the intellectual capital of Greece, Corinth was its commercial capital. It was a port city and a sailor town. The characters that Paul encountered in the city were likely a bit more rough around the edges than even the rest of the Gentiles that Paul routinely dealt with.
As someone who had been a “pharisee of pharisees” it is likely that the city of Corinth made Paul a bit uneasy with all its immorality. While not all may have been in use in Paul’s day, Corinth was home to at least 12 pagan temples including one dedicated to Aphrodite, the goddess of love. At that temple, worship included religious prostitution.
Despite the drawbacks of the city, it was where Paul met Priscilla and Aquilla, two of his trusted companions who accompanied him on the rest of his second missionary journey. Likewise, Paul experienced a small amount of tranquility in the city and was able to stay there for two years before moving on.
Theme of 1 Corinthians
While Paul addresses numerous problems in the church immaturity seems to be at the heart of most of it. Perhaps because Corinth was a more sinful city than most others that Paul went to, the new believers had to grow more and struggled more with sin.
While Paul addresses many specific problems in the Corinthian church, this book could really be considered a handbook for the modern church as its immaturity is similiar to the Corinthians even if it doesn’t have the same specific problems such as eating food sacrificed to idols or sleeping with one’s step mother. (Presumably “father’s wife” is not a reference to incest but rather a step mother.)
Because of the immaturity issues, Paul continually addresses the divisions within the church and the need for unity as one body of believers.
Key points of 1 Corinthians
1 Corinthians contains some of the most famous verses of the Bible but also some of the most practical as well as the most theological.
1 Corinthians 5-6 addresses sexual immorality and leads into a discussion of marriage in chapter 7.
1 Corinthians 11 gives instructions on proper worship and then offers instructions on how the Lord’s Supper should be observed.
1 Corinthians 12 is one of four passages in the New Testament that addresses spiritual gifts (chapter 14 is another which specifically speaks about tongues and interpretation.) Paul stresses the need for unity despite the many different gifts that appear within the church.
1 Corinthians 13 is the love chapter of the Bible. It is often quoted at weddings but of course it is meant to be deeper instruction than just physical love.
1 Corinthians 15 is a long discussion of the necessity of Jesus’ resurrection. Paul argues that anyone who denies the resurrection has a worthless faith because if Christ isn’t resurrected, we have no hope.
While there are many important verses to choose from in 1 Corinthians, 1 Corinthians 6:12 probably best summarizes Paul’s overall message to the Corinthians.
“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything.