Main Themes of 1 Corinthians

Paul established the church at Corinth in Acts 18. When Paul arrives in Corinth he meets Aquilla and Priscilla, Jews who had been expelled from Rome by Claudius. Paul’s initial ministry is in the agora, working at a tentmaker.  Paul describes his initial efforts in the city as “in weakness and great fear” (1 Cor 2:3), since he was persecuted in Philippi, Thessalonica and nearly so in Berea. As usual, Paul attends synagogue meetings in the city and argues Jesus is the Messiah.  This ministry is more successful when Silas and Timothy finally arrive, allowing him to devote himself to preaching. Although he faced some opposition from the synagogue, the Lord comforted Paul in a dream, telling him there were many in the city who will respond to the Gospel (Acts 18:9-11). After Paul spends 18 months in the city, he visits Ephesus before returning to Jerusalem for a short time. When he returned to Ephesus he heard of the problems in the church at Corinth and wrote a series of letters to the church.

First Corinthians is made up of a series of issues arising from a report delivered to Paul from the household of Chloe as well as responses to a letter from the church asking about several questions about faith and practice. The report seems to have been confirmed by others since Paul takes the problems seriously, dealing with them in chapters 1-6.  Paul’s responses to the questions are covered in chapters 7-16 (“now about the matters you wrote about,” 7:1).

In chapters 1-6 Paul deals with the reported problems in the church. He deals with division over leadership (ch. 1-4), boasting over a sexually immoral man in the church (5:1-12), lawsuits among believers (6:1-11), and sexual immorality (6:12-20).  These difficult issues revolved around Roman cultural and social practices. In 1 Corinthians 3:3 Paul says the church is “still worldly,” essentially they are still thinking like the people of Corinth, not the people of God.

In chapters 7-16 Paul deals with questions from the church on marriage (ch. 7), food sacrificed to idols and Christian freedom (8:1-11:16), the Lord’s Supper 11:17-34), spiritual gifts (ch. 12-14), the resurrection (ch. 15) and the collection (16:1-4). Like the troubles reported to Paul, many of these issue are related to living out their new Christian faith in a Roman world. Although the matter of food sacrificed to idols seems obscure to the modern reader, Paul devotes as much as three chapters to the issue because participation in banquets at temples was such a common practice in Roman Corinth. Potentially the church is turning the Lord’s Supper into a Roman-style banquet, something which extremely dangerous from Paul’s perspective (11:17, 27-32).

Bruce Winter suggested that after Paul left Corinth the church began to explore how Christianity interacted with their culture and social relationships (After Paul Left Corinth, Eerdmans, 2001). Corinthian culture was a thoroughly Roman worldview and there was enormous pressure to conform to the cultural expectations of a first century Roman city.

For example, the city hosted yearly festivals in honor of the imperial cult. Participation in these festivals was something a Roman citizen would have associated with loyalty to Rome, a loyalty that the citizens of Corinth took very seriously. Even if one was not a Roman citizen, loyalty to the Empire was important

In addition, the Isthmian Games were based in Corinth. There is evidence when the games were celebrated the president of the games hosted a festival for Corinthians who were Roman citizens. In 1 Corinthians 8:9 there is a reference to having the “freedom” to eat. Paul may be referring to these sort of elite social connections that some in the church had the right or freedom to attend.  Can a Christian really participate in a meal dedicated to a god and the Empire as a follower of Christ?

First Corinthians is therefore about how to live as the people of God, the body of Christ, and the temple of the Holy Spirit in a world which is overwhelming non-Christian. It is not the case the Corinthian church is facing persecution, but they do struggle to let Christ transform the way they think about their culture. For this reason, the letter of 1 Corinthians is one of the most applicable letters in the New Testament.

11 thoughts on “Main Themes of 1 Corinthians

  1. The Corinthian church members struggled to live in the body of Christ in a world that was very non-Christian. Paul was worried that Corinthians had “fallen into the trap of allowing the gospel to be clouded by a zealous attachment to a personality whose rhetorical prowess they favor” (Longenecker, 118). Cultural conflicts are a consistent issue for believers in Pauline literature. The relationship between culture and Christianity is discussed in chapter fifteen of Acts and other books from the Bible. Gentile converts were not required to follow the Jewish laws, but the polytheistic lifestyle of their culture proved challenging. The ways of society “had permeated the corporate structures of Corinthian Christian communities” (Longenecker, 118). To Paul, scripture came first and the culture was second (1 Corinthians 9:19-24). The gentiles and Jews were not required to do without their culture as long as the gospel was not compromised because of it. When Paul told the Jewish apostles that he was not requiring the gentiles to practice certain laws of the Torah, such as circumcision, they supported it (Acts 2:9). Circumcision was part of the Jewish law and it was required for some who joined the faith at the time. Paul changed one of the cultural expectations for Gentiles who believed Christianity. Paul’s response to the cultural pressure is that a person is made right “with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law” (Galatians 2:16). This is an example of a cultural expectation that conflicted with the current Christian beliefs.

  2. You pose the question “Can a Christian really participate in a meal dedicated to a god and the Empire as a follower of Christ?” I can definitely understand the struggle. It is the classic church argument, In the world but not of it. At what point are you supporting a sin? Can you attend a same sex wedding? Be their photographer? Perform the ceremony? Where is the line drawn? For the believers in Corinth, their was confusion on what was all right for them to participate in. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 9:22 “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” His focus is on what he can do to share with them the Gospel. Not how it looks, not how comfortable it makes him, but how it furthers his cause to share Christ.

  3. Longenecker does talk about how in Corinth, they were still very deeply ingrained in their own culture — so much so that it was difficult for them to get their heads out of a steadfast quest for honor. Their priorities at the time may have been a bit skewed, hence why there was the need for Paul’s address. But it’s important to note here that Paul writes from a compassionate point of view that it’s sometimes hard to get our heads out of our niche, even when it comes to giving our culture over to Christ as well. There IS this cultural breach that Paul is trying to write to. It’s as you say — 1 Corinthians is an address on how to live as people of God, as believers. Something very real that our society faces today is that sometimes people who claim to be believers don’t necessarily behave in accordance to that, which is a reminder that we are all prone to sin. It’s in our nature. Sometimes we live of the world instead of in it, and sometimes it’s the other way around.

    Something to especially appreciate from 1 Corinthians that Paul is addressing in the context of living like a child of God, remembering that sometimes we do not always behave as a believer ought to, is when Paul addresses the steadfastness of Love in 1 Corinthians 13. I think that when Paul is addressing the difficulty that Corinth is having in conforming to Christianity’s principles, this is one of the more horizontal ways he delivers his message. When all else fails, even in difficulty, love is the most true and “eternal”.

    As a book overall, 1 Corinthians is a picture for how to continue our lives as believers, even when we struggle to conform to that lifestyle — it’s a problem the Corinthians faced, and one we still face as individuals from time to time today.

  4. I took a class two years ago called Introduction to Kinesiology talking about the origin of sports and competition. We talked a lot about the Isthmian games and my professor taught that Christians were forced to fight in these games until one was killed. I was wondering if you found that to be true at all with your research as we did not talk about the persecution of Christians when we discussed the games.
    To answer your question about Christians being allowed to eat food that is dedicated to a god or the empire, I think about going to a different culture as a missionary and the people I was ministering to dedicated their food to a god before we ate if this were to happen I would not have a problem eating the food, however when the time was right I would want to share with them how my religion differs. In Roman society Christians faced this on a different level, and Paul came to the conclusion that because they know that the idols don’t exist, they are allowed to eat the food that was sacrificed, unless it offends another believer they are with whom Paul refers to as the “the weak” (TTP 123) (1Cor. 8:7).
    I also like how you mentioned that this passage is still very applicable today for new believers because of Paul’s main concerns for the Corinthians. I feel as though today Christians are struggling to not be defined by culture. They either hate it too much and twist the gospel to hate those who believe differently, or they have salvation but still live as they are part of the world. Although some of our issues are much different than what the Corinthians faced, we can still look to this passage as an example of what freedom in Christ looks like, and how to be other than the world

  5. Blog Post #4
    I agree with what P.Long says at the end of this blog post stating that “First Corinthians is therefore about how to live as the people of God, the body of Christ, and the temple of the Holy Spirit in a world which is overwhelmingly non-Christian”. After reading 1st Corinthians it is evident that living our life is a constant challenge and there are so many distractions and personal selfishness that we go through day by day. I personally feel as if it is even harder in modern times to live our life the Christian way because there is so much that steals our attention away from how God intends us to live; from Tik-Tok to television we ultimately forget about Paul’s instructions. 1st Corinthians is a reminder written by Paul to help the struggling church of Corinth, overall throughout this letter Paul’s main teachings is to encourage the church to practice what they preach in the most literal sense for there were a lot of hypocritical situations that were going on. I personally think that the main theme from 1st Corinthians would come from chapter 6 for this chapter is when Paul really puts his foot down and addresses all of the wrong doings the people of the Corinth church were doing. “They informed Paul about the rise of a serious rupture in the social fabric of Corinthian Jesus groups, brought by allegiances to different leaders” (TTP,115). This is a very important thing to address when talking about the main theme in 1st Corinthians because one must live a life pleasing to God; and that is not what was going on in Corinth. Paul states in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 that if these wrongdoing keep occurring then they will not inherit the kingdom; and I think it is very important part of 1st Corinthians because if it was a problem in AD 50; It has gotten a lot worse and needs even more attention in modern times that we are currently facing.

  6. 1 Corinthians is a book that we can go to when figuring out how to live in a world that is not centered around Christ. We see in Paul’s letter how there were concerns with how the church was interacting with the surrounding culture. Roman culture had a significant influence on the people of Corinth. “Corinthian culture was a thoroughly Roman worldview and there was enormous pressure to conform to the cultural expectations of a first century Roman city” (Long, 2017). Because of this, Paul decides to write a letter addressing the issues brought up from the house of Chloe. Many of the issues were about how the newly Christians should interact in a gentile world around them. Paul starts the letter saying how he “could not address you as people who live by the spirit but as people who are still worldly” (1 Corinthians 1:1). This shows how the people are still immature in their faith, and do not know the importance of living a life reflecting and honoring God and not continuing in their old desires. Because of this, 1 Corinthians is a book that we as Christians can continue to look towards on how to live our life. Some cultural practices are not relevant specifically to us, but many main ideas are still applicable to us today.

  7. In 1 Corinthians there are many different ideas that Paul talks about. In the beginning couple chapters, Paul writes about practices of the church and faith and the division within the leadership. In chapters 7-16 he talks about marriage which to me is one of the most important subjects in the Bible for our lives. He also writes about stuff such as the Lord’s supper, gifts, resurrection and the collection. This book is very special to us for when we are living in a world that is full of non-Christ like actions. We saw some of this in the past couple years and are still seeing some of it today. Our lives are becoming more and more un–Christ like due to things happening around us. This letters importance is for times when we feel the hardship of lives come thrashing at us. We should look to 1 Corinthians for when we feel we are falling from believing. We see encouraging words in this letter to bring us back to believing and living a Christ like lifestyle. Whenever I get into situations where I feel I am going to make a decision that may not be Christ like, I think about living in the image of God where he wants us to act out our faith so others can see the way God works in us.

  8. Corinth was a fascinating place when looking back during the time of Paul and the early church. For starters, Corinth is located in a peculiar place, on a narrow piece of land connecting southern Greece to the mainland of Greece. This made Corinth the hub for many things, specifically trade and transport. Corinth was no small, Podunk little town, as it had roughly about 250,000 people living there during the time of Paul. While there was quite a large chunk of Jews and Christians living in Corinth, pagan beliefs overruled and dominated the landscape. This made it quite difficult for the believers there to stay true to God. This led to Paul writing both letters to the believers in Corinth; to firmly encourage them back onto the right path.
    Throughout the letter, Paul addresses a great number of issues, from sexual immorality to marriage; spiritual gifts, to food sacrificed to idols. He even addresses how the church was handling sexually immoral man.
    One thing I find quite interesting is whether or not Christians can take part in meals or festivals dedicated to something secular or pagan. During the time of Paul, specifically in Corinth, believers faced much pressure to conform and take part in pagan beliefs and traditions. There was a great deal of pressure to conform to cultural and societal expectations. Something that Paul points out that Christians are not held to the Law (Jewish law and customs) anymore, being held rather to the Law of Christ, so therefore they cannot be made unclean by taking part in certain aspects of the festivals or feasts. In his letter to the Galatian believers, he spends an entire chapter discussing and explain this very point (Galatians 3).

  9. The question “Can Christians really participate in a meal dedicated to a god and the Empire as a follower of Christ?” That is such a tough question to answer because the father you dive into it the more complicated it gets. In my opinion it would be in your best interest to stay away from it. The reason for it is because it is really easy to fall into the trap of false gods. If anyone, even a devout Christian was to indulge in the acts of those who follow a pagan god they are likely to fall into it. An example where someone may want to eat the meal would be if a missionary was in Africa and had the goal to bring Christ into a village. This particular village has their own gods and they offer you a meal and if you were to refuse you could be kicked out of the village. In this scenario, you would want to do anything you could to bring Christ into this village and that might include eating a meal dedicated to their god. This was a very specific example, but it shows that it is impossible to answer this question with a simple yes or no.

  10. 1st Corinthians concerns itself with the plethora of issues in the church in Corinth, which has been reported by the household of Chloe, with other sources potentially confirming the initial suspicions. The first six chapters of the book detail the issues which were needing to be addressed, while chapters 7-16 answer the questions presented. The issues within 1st Corinthians include division over leadership, sexual immorality of a man in the church, lawsuits among believers, and general sexual misconduct. As Long notes, one of Paul’s main concerns within the text is that the church and its members are “still worldly”, being too invested in the culture of Corinth instead of the culture of God.
    As we move from the first six chapters, Paul begins to address issues such as marriage, food sacrificed to idols, Christian freedom, the Lord’s Supper, spiritual gifts, and resurrection among other issues as one progresses through chapters 7-16. The idea of food sacrifice, while seemingly unimportant to the modern reader, Paul is quite concerned with the topic. This is most likely because of the participation in banquets within Corinth, which was common for most citizens to engage with. As Long notes, Bruce Winters suggests that once Paul left the church in Corinth, the Christian believers and worldview had direct interaction with the Greco-Roman culture which surrounded it. This conflict of worldview would cause tension, especially since the Roman culture was highly influential and conformity to Roman practices and culture was expected. This cultural clash between the growing Christian community and of the Greco-Roman world is one of the primary themes of 1st Corinthians. Paul urges the church in Corinth to maintain themselves in the body of Christ, to withstand the temptations of the world, allowing Christ to transform ourselves towards Him.

Leave a Reply