The Apostle Paul was the writer of this epistle. The epistle was written to the Church at Corinth, but is directed “to all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord” (see 1 Corinthians 1:2).
Julius Caesar founded Corinth, the capital of Achaia, Greece, in 45 B.C. It was a great commercial center. It also boasted of one of the greatest temples in the world. This temple was dedicated to the goddess Aphrodite. A vile system of worship was practiced here. This corrupted religion wreaked havoc on the morals of Corinth as a city, and also on the local church, thereby explaining the gross sins denounced in chapter 5.
Paul preached for eighteen months in this city during his second missionary tour. The result of his labor was the planting of a church. Acts 18 describes for us Paul’s experiences during this time. While Paul was in Ephesus during his third missionary journey (see Acts 19:1-41), news was brought to him by some of the household of Chloe that things were not good at Corinth (see 1 Cor. 1:11). In addition to this, the Corinthian Church had written a letter to Paul, requesting answers to certain problems that had arisen in the church (see 1 Cor. 7:1). These problems were plentiful, as seen below. They seemed to be concerned with the following:
- Things offered to idols (1 Corinthians 8:1)
- Disorder with regards to the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11)
- Spiritual gifts and their use (1 Corinthians 12:1, 14)
- The resurrection of Christ and the saints (1 Corinthians 15:2)
- The collection for saints in need (1 Corinthians 16:1)
This analysis opens up the following outline to us:
A. The Introduction (1 Corinthians 1:1-9)
B. Reply to the reports from Chloe (1 Corinthians 1:10-6:20)
C. Reply to the letter from the Church (1 Corinthians 7:1-16:9)
D. The Conclusion (1 Corinthians 16:10-24)
The report from Chloe would include a description of 1 Corinthians 1:11. There were contentions as well as people who were glorying in wisdom (see 1 Cor. 1). There was carnality (see 1 Cor. 3), immorality, and the taking of each other to law (see 1 Cor. 6). The objective of this epistle was to correct these errors and throw light on social, domestic, and other perplexities.
Another popular division of 1 Corinthians is centered on 1 Corinthians 1:30. Christ who has made “wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption” unto us:
Wisdom (1 Cor. 1-4)
Righteousness (1 Cor. 5-10)
Sanctification (1 Cor. 11-14)
Redemption (1 Cor. 15-16)
Let us now look at an analysis of the book:
I. The Divisions in the Church (1 Corinthians 1-4)
A. Party spirit obscures the lordship of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:10-17)
B. Party spirit obscures the nature of the Gospel
C. Party spirit obscures the nature of Christian ministry
II. Disorders in the Church (1 Corinthians 5-14)
A. Moral disorder (1 Corinthians 5-6)
B. Social disorder (1 Corinthians 7-10)
C. Ecclesiastical disorder (1 Corinthians 11-14)
III. Doctrinal Disorder (1 Corinthians 15)
A. Concerning the resurrection
Let us now look more closely at some of the apparent errors in the Corinthian Church. There is an exposure of man-exalting schisms: Paulinians, Apollonians, and Cephasites. The Pauline loyalists doubtlessly championed Gospel freedom and would claim primacy for Paul as the founder of their church. The Apollos clique was composed of the intellectuals, carried away by the silver tongue of the Alexandrine expositor. The Cephas block was presumably inclined toward Judaism, whose boast would be in Peter as the authoritative voice of the apostles and the mother church at Jerusalem. There was even a “Christ” party. They claimed His name in a factious way, which implied superiority to all others. Paul’s answer to all this is found in 1 Corinthians 3:1-9.
The next open sore was that of immorality (see 1 Corinthians 5:1). This gross error was apparently left unjudged. See 1 Corinthians 5:13. The Paulinians – Apollonians – Cephasites and the others were glorying in the flesh. They were puffed up, but they should have been mourning that this evil had not been dealt with.
The next error was that of a brother going to law against another brother (see chapter 10). In 1 Corinthians 10:2, Paul reminds them that the saints shall judge the world. In 1 Corinthians 10:3 he reminds them that the saints shall judge angels. So then, as 1 Corinthians 10:4 shows, the Church is able to judge in disputes involving brethren.
Now note the words in 1 Corinthians 7:1, “Now concerning the things whereof you wrote to me…” The former evils were what had been reported verbally to him by the household of Chloe. The church had written to him about the evils that we will now discuss.
In chapter 7 is Paul’s reply concerning the matters of marriage, celibacy, and divorce. Chapters 8-10 show us the extent of our Christian liberty. When problems of conscience are being faced, Paul sets forth a number of guiding principles:
- Nothing is to remain in one’s life if it causes another Christian to stumble (1 Corinthians 8:9, 13).
- The preaching of the Gospel is not to be hindered, rather aided (1 Corinthians 9:12, 22).
- All things are to be done to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Chapter 11 provides us with the proper conduct of women in assembly. She should have her head covered. She should keep silent in assembly (1 Cor. 14:34). It then goes on to provide us with the proper conduct at the Lord’s Supper.
Chapters 12-14 touch on three major aspects, including the nature and use of spiritual gifts as the burden of Paul. Chapter 13 shows us that these gifts are to be exercised in love. In 1 Corinthians 14:40, Paul shows that all things have to be done decently and in order.
Chapter 15 is the classic chapter on the resurrection of the body. Christ’s resurrection is described in 1 Corinthians 15:1-19. In 1 Corinthians 15:20-58, the application of this great truth is made.
The message of the epistle is “The Lordship of Christ.” The Lord’s full title is “Lord Jesus Christ” and it is never given to Him except when the writer is seeking to emphasize the Lordship of Christ. This is significant then when we discover that this title is given to our Lord six times in the first ten verses of the epistle. The name “Lord” also occurs frequently throughout the epistle. There is deep significance in this, because all the disorders that had crept into their lives and into the church had arisen through failure to recognize Jesus Christ as Lord.
Consider some of the language used, such as the use of the temple of the Holy Spirit in contrast to the temple of Aphrodite. The sins of the city (i.e. sexual immorality, drunkenness) had been brought into the assembly. Note the references to the Judgment Seat of Christ.