© 2001 by
Loizeaux Brothers, Inc.
Neptune, New Jersey
First Edition, 1938 Revised Edition, 2001
Unless otherwise indicated,
Scripture quotations are taken from the King James version of the Bible.
Introductory Notes taken from
Gaebelein’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible
© 1970, 1985 by Loizeaux Brothers, Inc.
By Arno C. Gaebelein
The two Epistles addressed to the Corinthians are placed in our New Testament between the books of Romans and Galatians. While Romans and Galatians (as well as Ephesians and Colossians) are pre-eminently doctrinal Epistles, the letters to the Corinthians, though not excluding doctrine, are of a more practical character. They deal with very grave and serious conditions that had arisen in the church at Corinth.
But are the two Corinthian Epistles the only Epistles Paul wrote to the church at Corinth? In 1 Corinthians 5:9 Paul said, “I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators.” From this we learn that he had written them a previous letter. Commentators have spoken of this letter as a lost epistle. But if it were an inspired document, like 1 and 2 Corinthians and the other Pauline Epistles, it would certainly have been preserved. Evidently the apostle wrote other letters that were not meant to form parts of the Word of God, letters that were not inspired as Romans, Ephesians, and the other Epistles were; and we can conclude that the epistle mentioned in 5:9 was merely a private letter of the apostle.
The Church at Corinth
Corinth was one of the foremost Grecian cities, the capital of the province of Achaia. The Roman proconsul resided there (Acts 18:12). Geographically Corinth had an excellent situation, which gave to the city a great commercial advantage, and therefore it was known for its vast commerce and immense wealth. Its large population was of a cosmopolitan character, for thousands of traders and mariners of all nations visited the famous city. Greek civilization in all its branches thrived there. The fine arts were cultivated and athletic games as well as schools of philosophy and rhetoric flourished in this proud city.
But it was also noted for its open and gross licentiousness. The whole city was steeped in immoralities of various kinds. Drunkenness, gluttony, and above all religiously licensed prostitution were at their worst in Corinth. The Greek worship of Aphrodite was of the most degraded nature. So great was the moral corruption that the Greek word Corinthiazesthai, which means “to live like a Corinthian,” had become a byword of shame and vileness among the profligate heathen of that time. The horrible picture of depravity given in the Epistle to the Romans (1:24-32), which was written by the apostle in Corinth, gives us some idea of the moral conditions prevailing in Corinth. It has well been said that “the geographical position of Corinth was its weal and its woe.”
The apostle Paul had been in Athens before he came to Corinth. While the origin of the church in Rome is obscure, we know that the Corinthian assembly was founded by the apostle. The record of it we find in Acts 18. He labored there under great blessing for “a year and six months.” Jews and Gentiles were saved; among the former was Crispus, “the chief ruler of the synagogue.” But the majority of those who believed were Gentiles, and these belonged to the poorer classes (1 Corinthians 1:26) with at least two exceptions: Erastus, the chamberlain of the city; and Gaius, a wealthy man whom Paul had baptized. The historical account of Paul’s ministry in Corinth and what happened there should be carefully read, for it throws light on the Epistles he sent to that church.
What he preached in that wealthy and wicked city, boasting of culture and much learning and filled with an arrogant pride, we gather from his own words in the first Epistle: “And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” He was greatly “pressed in the spirit” while there, actually “in fear, and in much trembling.” He knew this was one of Satan’s strongholds. But God stood by His servant, and while his “preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom,” it was “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Corinthians 2:1-4; Acts 18:5).
Both Epistles reveal the deplorable state of the Corinthians, and their condition called forth, through the energy of the Holy Spirit, this first Epistle. The evil things that had sprung up among the Corinthians had been reported to the apostle. “The house of Chloe” (1:11) is mentioned as informing him about the contentious spirit in the church. Probably from the same source, as well as from others, he heard of even worse things, which were making headway among the believers. Gross immorality was being tolerated in their midst; lawsuits of Christians were being submitted to courts over which pagan judges presided; even the blessed memorial feast, the Lord’s supper, had been degraded and on account of that, some had been dealt with by the Lord.
Then there were other matters, such as disorder in public worship, abuse of certain gifts, and the forwardness of women. Also agitating the Corinthian assembly were controversies about the marriage state and certain church issues such as collections. The Corinthians had not been brought up by Christians and had everything to learn. This fully explains the character of the first Epistle.
The First Epistle to the Corinthians
Attempts have been made to question the authenticity of the first Corinthian Epistle. They have not, however, been successful. Testimonies to the authorship of this document are found in the writings of Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and others. Dean Alford stated, “As far as I am aware, the authorship of the first Epistle to the Corinthians has never been doubted by any critic of note. Indeed, he who would do so must be prepared to dispute the historical truth of the character of St. Paul.”
The Epistle itself answers our question concerning the place and the time when it was written by the apostle. The statement printed in some editions of the Bible—“written from Philippi”—is incorrect, for in 16:8 we read the writer’s statement, “I will tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost.” The apostle Paul was therefore in Ephesus and intended to leave about Pentecost. The book of Acts shows that he left that city about the time of Pentecost in the year 57. It is quite certain that this first Epistle to the Corinthians was written during the first part of the year 57, probably around the time of Easter (see 1 Corinthians 5:7-8).
From Acts 19:22 we learn that the apostle, while still in Ephesus, had sent Timothy and Erastus to Macedonia. He also commissioned Timothy to go to Corinth, no doubt to prepare the way for a visit of the apostle (1 Corinthians 4:17-19; 16:10). In all probability the Epistle was taken to Corinth by Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus (16:17).
Important and Practical Truths
First Corinthians is addressed to “the church of God which is at Corinth.. .with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.” Thus the true circle of fellowship was laid down for every local church to observe. All who acknowledge Christ as Lord and call upon His name belong to the church. Furthermore we learn from these words that the messages of this Epistle are for God’s people at all times, for “in every place” includes every place where believers are found today. The truths unfolded, the exhortations given, have therefore a universal application; they are the commandments of the Lord to all His people.
The fellowship of the saints on earth; the church’s place and testimony in the world; the church’s order, membership, spiritual gifts, spiritual manifestations, and discipline—these and other important matters are the truths dealt with in this first Epistle. Then after the church is viewed as His witness on earth, the great truth of the resurrection of the body is made known, as well as the fact that when the Lord comes “we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” (15:51-52). This puts before us the “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13), the great consummation when the church will leave this earthly scene of conflict and failure and become, according to promise, the glorious church. In view of such a destiny, what manner of lives we should live and what manner of service should be ours!
All about us in the professing church we see the fullest failure and ruin. The evils that were in the Corinthian church, such as sectarianism, self-indulgence, and worldliness, have become the prominent features of the institution that claims to be the church today. For the true believer whose aim it is to be obedient to the Lord in all things, this Epistle has a message and shows him the way that he can follow, though failure and confusion are rampant all around him. “Be ye stedfast,” Paul wrote, “unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
But as Paul acknowledged, “There are many adversaries.” Whenever the Lord opens a door and His Spirit works, we may well expect opposition. However, we may also remember His gracious promise to those who are in a Philadelphian condition of soul (Revelation 3:7-13). If we have a little strength, if we keep His Word and do not deny His name, He will still open doors, and no power can shut them. He will keep the door of service open as long as it pleases Him.
Prior to his closing blessing at the end of the Epistle, Paul made a very solemn statement: “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha.” Anathema Maranatha means “Accursed—Our Lord cometh.” And accursed will be any man who has rejected the love and the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. The statement shows that some in the Corinthian assembly may have been merely professing Christians, never having really tasted the love of Christ.
But to the saints, the true believers, the final word was and is, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.”
Outline Of The Book Of 1 Corinthians
I. Serious Problems Addressed (1:1-6:20)
A. Contention in the Fellowship (1:1-31)
B. Natural, Carnal, and Spiritual Men (2:1-3:23)
C. Discipline in the Church (4:1-21)
D. The Unrepentant Man (5:1-13)
E. Lawsuits among Christians (6:1-11)
F. Sexual Immorality (6:12-20)
II. Specific Questions Answered (7:1-16:24)
A. Celibacy, Marriage, and Divorce (7:1-40)
B. Christian Liberty (8:1-9:27)
C. Consistent Living (10:1-33)
D. Head Coverings (11:1-16)
E. The Lord’s Supper (11:17-34)
F. Spiritual Gifts (12:1-14:40)
1. Christ’s Gracious Provision (12:1-31)
2. The Love Chapter (13:1-13)
3. The Exercise of Gifts (14:1-40)
G. The Resurrection (15:1-58)
H. Collections and Closing Messages (16:1-24)