The city of Corinth was an important cosmopolitan city in the middle part of the first century. (Was Corinth more sinful than other Roman cities? Click the link for my comments about that longstanding misunderstanding of history, as well as a followup comment from a read.) It was economically stable, attracting a wide range of businesses from all over the Empire. Paul established the church in this city for this very reason. Once Christianity takes hold in Corinth, the local churches themselves can continue the mission of spreading the gospel throughout the region.
In choosing as one of his main missionary centers a city in which only the tough were reputed to survive, Paul demonstrated a confidence oddly at variance with his protestations of weakness. Corinth, however, offered advantages that outweighed its dangers. In addition to excellent communications, the extraordinary number of visitors (Dio Chrysostom, Or. 37.8; Aelius Aristides, Or. 46.24) created the possibility of converts who would carry the gospel back to their homelands. In contrast to the closed complacency of Athens, Corinth was open and questioning, eager for new ideas but neither docile nor passive, as Paul’s relationship with the Christian community there amply documents (Murphy-O’Connor, ABD 1:1138).
Yet of all of Paul’s churches, this one seems to have had the most difficulties assimilating Christianity and their culture.
The books of 1 and 2 Corinthians deal with a number of problems that arose after Paul left the city. Why did Paul not deal with them as a part of his regular training of new believers and church leaders? What happened in Corinth that brought these particular problems to the forefront only after Paul left the city?
The thesis of Bruce Winter’s After Paul Left Corinth is that after Paul left the city the church began to explore how Christianity interacted with their Greco-Roman culture and social relationships. Their culture was a thoroughly Roman world-view, but it was also a world-view in flux.
There were several de-stabilizing factors in first century Corinth.
First, the institution of yearly festivals in 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.
Second, the Isthmian Games were based in Corinth, and there is evidence that when the games were celebrated the President of the games hosted a festival for Corinthians who were Roman citizens. In 8:9 there is a reference to having the “freedom” to eat; the Greek word is “authority,” or perhaps “right” to eat. Paul may be referring to these sort of elite social connections that some in the church had the right/freedom to participate in. Can a Christian really participate in this meal as a follower of Christ?
Third, Winter cites evidence that there were three severe grain famines in the first century that effected Corinth. There are ten inscriptions from Paul’s time that honor the “superintendent of the grain.” This office had the power to manage grain sales in an effort to keep prices down and supply flowing. This could involve a taxation system that paid for grain for the poor, or even a flooding of the market with grain in order to drive prices down. Even rumors of famine were enough to cause riots and generally de-stabilize an economy.
Last, the most difficult issues revolved around Roman cultural and social practices. In 1 Cor 3:3 Paul says that the church is “still worldly,” literally that they are thinking like the people of Corinth, not the people of God. The Christians in Corinth failed to see how the Roman world impacted their life in Christ.
Does this cultural background help us understand “what happened” in Corinth? Why did the church mis-handle so many of the challenges to their new faith in Christ? Is the Corinthian experience much different than Christianity in the modern West?
Bibliography: Bruce Winter, After Paul Left Corinth: The Influence of Secular Ethics and Social Change (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2001).
37 thoughts on “Acts 18 – What Went Wrong in Corinth?”
Reblogged this on Talmidimblogging.
There’s no way to say specifically why the church had such a hard time, but much like the culture we face today, the Corinthians were submerged in a city boiling over with fascinations that pulled them away from God and his desire for them in how they were supposed to live. In saying that the church was still “living worldly” reminds me of some churches that I have heard of who have strain away from Biblical truth and instruction, missing the mark for which Christ laid out for us and of which Paul was teaching and persuading them of in 18:5, 11. Paul serves as an example to us in the way that he encouraged and exhorted the Corinthians to follow Jesus (the Corinthian letters). Ministry to the body should be targeted at encouraging and exhorting fellow believers so that we are walking in the light and standing out from the rest of the world.
I did my geography study on Corinth and learned a lot about the culture and society. What I found interesting about Corinthian history is that it was destroyed in 146 B.C. by the Romans. A century later, Julius Caesar ordered reconstruction of the city and sent former slaves and veterans to live there. Those who returned to the desolated land were Roman, Italian, and Latin, along with others. They brought with them their culture and their gods. Paul had a number of religious practices to confront that were a lot more blatantly against Christianity than the subtle things Christians combat today. For a small example, temple prostitutes were so common adultery would have been a strange thing to try to speak against. Today adultery is a lot more subtle. The sex trade, pornography, and other sexual temptations are not even talked about in the many circumstances they do exist. It seems to me it would have been harder to speak out against what was obviously acceptable than to bring to light the destruction of practices that people already try to keep secret.
Honestly, having talked about Corinth more in class, the city does not seem more sinful than the other cities Paul visited throughout his life. For instance, I studied Ephesus both for the geography paper, but also a little in my research paper. Ephesus was hugely struggling with sin because of their rituals, holidays, and religion of worshipping Artemis. For Ephesus, it was mysticism and sorcery that led them astray much of the time, while for Corinth is was the culmination of a diverse set of worldviews. Looking at the different cities, Corinth seems to be the most diverse in their acceptance of and pursuit of different religions. Yes it was solely Roman in its religion, but like you’ve said they were eager to question and grapple with new ideas or different religious ideals. Your last point of the Roman cultural and social practices was probably the biggest reason for the fact that Corinth fell away when Paul left them. Thinking of our western culture, we are inundated with ideas, traditions, and philosophies. Most of the times these are all different and varied, so we too struggle to know what is right and wrong and to focus on things of God, rather than the things of the world. The Corinthian church mis-handled the challenges to their new faith because the were new believers and not yet accustomed or strong enough to stand up under the weight of so many pressures. Yet also, they seem to lend themselves to peer pressure, reminiscent of the Children of Israel–fickle in their minds and decisions. If one person does it, they all do it. We have a lot to learn from Corinth and the church that was developed and faltered there because the church in America is doing much the same thing–yes it may look different, but the heart of the issue remains the same. I can’t help, but think back to Colossians 3:1-3 where Paul tells the Colossians church to “set their minds on things above, not on earthly things.”
Great job on your discussion post. I liked how you gave the example of Ephesus as well to further explain how Corinth struggled as a church just as much as any other area. Being that the places Paul started these church, for example in Ephesus and Corinth, were all areas that did not believe in the new Christian faith before this I do not think it is far off that their start-ups came with struggles. Michael Jordan is considered one of the greatest basketball players of all time yet he was cut from his freshman high school team. This is simply because newer learned things in life are always going to be more difficult at first. However, one could make the point that the church in Corinthian was still not doing well after being started for a while. Paul started this church in Acts yet it is seen in 1 Corinthians that the church still struggled with pagan meals, prostitution, litigation, and otherworldly behavior. Being that the church had both Jews (1 Corinthians 7:18-19) and Gentiles (1 Corinthians 6:9-11) this could have been another reason the church struggled for as long as it did. We already know these two groups do not get along so now coming together as one in the new Christian faith could have been quite difficult.
The issues Christians struggled with in Corinth are often similar to experiences Christians struggle with today. In Corinth, believers in the risen Jesus as well as law abiding Jews had to make difficult decisions about how they would interact with the culture of the city. All of the festivals, banquets and celebrations would have involved idol worship and in some cases even involve things like prostitution. In our current culture, we are exposed to more modern forms of idol worship and equally as difficult topics as Christians. However, instructions from Paul in Romans 12:2 encourage to “…not conform to the patterns of this world”. These are obviously difficult instructions for times so saturated with things displeasing to God, however, the absence of this command and its effects can be seen all throughout our current culture as well as the culture in Corinth. Without some sort of separation, the culture and Christian beliefs begin to mix and lose the powerful message of Christ.
In the book Worldliness: Resisting The Seduction Of The Fallen World, C. J. Mahaney argues that worldliness is very dangerous for Christians today, just as it was for the people of Corinth. Mahaney states that “Worldliness, then,is a love for this fallen world. It’s loving the values and pursuits of the world that stand opposed to God. More specifically, it is to gratify and exalt oneself to the exclusion of God” (27). This love for the fallen world, which opposes God, is what can cause one to slip and fall, and cannot always see where one has fallen. 1 John 2:15 states “Do not love the world or things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him”. This verse states that we should not love the world, meaning the sins of the world, for one who treasures those above the Father is not with Him. This is what was happening to the people of Corinth and arguably to some of us today. Today we live “still worldly”, not realizing how our own culture here in America affects how we think and act, such as what we see on television, and the content in some of the popular music today.
Mahaney , C. J. . “Is this Verse In Your Bible?.” Worldliness: Resisting The Seduction Of The Fallen World. Wheaton,Illinois : Crossway Books, 2008. 15-35. Print.
It’s diffult for us to put ourselves in the shoes of early Christians sometimes. We take part in a “religion” that has been around for a while, with established traditions and norms and cultures. It’s difficult to imagine being a part of a brand new belief and trying to figure out how this now relates to the culture around you. Christianity, as a Gentile at least, was more “liberal” than Judaism, but there were some limitations, surely. I think many of Corinth’s problems arose from trying to find this balance between legalism and complete hedonism. Paul discusses things that are permissible versus profitable in his letters, but we have to keep in mind that this was all new to the Corinthians.
The situation in Corinth seems to be, in a sense, a pretty typical example of what can happen when young believers try to synthesize their cultural roots with their new found faith. One of the most commonly known vices of the Corinthian church was in regard to sexual sins, which was definitely a reflection of their culture. While Corinth may or may not have been significantly worse than the surrounding cities, the general attitude of the day would have promoted promiscuous behavior in the context of pagan temple worship. While we likely scoff and turn up our noses when we read accounts of prostitution among the believers in I Corinthians 6, we must keep in mind that their cultural mindset regarding prostitution was much different from ours. We might compare this to believers today who struggle to give up their favorite forms of entertainment because they are not glorifying to God or edifying to the body. Instead of asking what went wrong in Corinth, maybe we should be looking at Paul’s letters to the Corinthian church as the best method for counteracting syncretism: discipleship. By writing to them while they were still infants in Christ, Paul helped the believers at Corinth to grow up in their faith.
“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” (I Corinthians 3:6-7)
On another thought. What happened to the church in history after Paul left? I have trouble finding historical accounts after that period. Thanks if you can direct me on this.
That is a good question, and I really do not have a good answer.
I have at least two monographs on Ephesus after Paul (Treblico is excellent, taking the history up to Ignatius). But i am not aware of anything quite like that for Corinth. There is a collection of essays edited by Adams and Horrell, Christianity at Corinth: The Quest for the Pauline Church (WJKP, 2004). Some of these are very old essays (FC Bauer, for example), running up to the early 2000s. None intentionally go beyond the letters, although a few may touch on that era.
I know that 1 Clement was written from Clement (as bishop of Rome) to Corinth, about the year 95. Perhaps a monograph on 1 Clement would have something.
It is hard to figure out specifically why the church in Corinth had such a hard time and struggled so much. However, I believe that two of the major factors is that there were so many people traveling in and out of the city and history of worshiping greek gods and goddesses. These kept pulling the church away from the truth of what Paul was trying to teach them. I feel like there are many christians even today that are struggling some of the same issues that the church of Corinth was. They struggle with being worldly. These christians may not even realize it but they are placing their own wants in front of Gods or placing things as idols within their lives. It is important as Christians to make sure that we are not living a life that is worldly and this chapter in Acts gives us a great example of how Paul handled being in a situation where an entire church was living worldly.
The title should be “What went right in Corinth”. The Corinthian church had many failures and challenges in the sanctification process. With Corinth being full of different trades men, the ideology would have been very diverse. People come into town from far off lands and bring their cult or religious ideas. These ideas get mixed in with the Greek gods and Roman cultic worshipers. When the gospel gets planted and received, there would have been many issues to arise. Essentially, the question is, how can a Christian interact with the world in Corinth? The influence of these other religions would have easily infiltrated the Christian doctrine. Furthermore, there would have been many things that were cultural to do in that city. Eating food given to idols, temple worship, sleeping with prostitutes in the temples, all of which were things that would have created challenges to be addressed. Paul, having stayed in Corinth for an 18 months and then leaves, would result in some big shoes to fill. Paul could give instruction, and correct the misunderstandings, and bad practices. In addition, Paul would have been able to make defenses to those who questioned the faith. When in his absence, the question would go unanswered, and issues that needed correction may have gone uncorrected. This is only speculation, but it would be logical since there are many different beliefs and influences that would have been pressing against the church.
Looking at the background culture of Corinth, one can better understand why the church had such a difficult time accepting the new faith in Jesus. I think one of the reasons is that Corinth was a well to do area. With their two seaports, Corinth was doing economically well. It is human nature to not need God when things are going good and I think that is the mindset Corinthians had. They were having fun with yearly festivals, the Isthmian games, public bath areas, etc. They had it good and that is why they more than likely did not want to give all of that up for the new Christian faith. Or they did not see their actions making any harmful changes so why not continue doing them? They did not seem to be hurting anyone. Either way, they easily backslide because they enjoyed what they had always previously done. This is a lot like western culture. Hearing about Jesus, we may accept it at first but then we do not want to give up our idols of television, money, and so forth. In our minds, we already have it so good why would we even need God? However, this is a scary mindset to hold because once our world comes crashing down, just like it always does, will God still be there, or will it be too late?
I think another reason the church probably struggled was because a lot of Corinthians did not want to accept the new faith. After going to the synagogue each Sabbath, Jews still did not accept what Paul was saying and he eventually decided to turn to the Gentiles in hope that they would listen (Acts 17:6). After this Paul even needed to receive a vision from God to continue staying there otherwise due to the tremendous persecution Paul was going to leave (Acts 17:9-11). Paul was receiving persecution from Jews who were supposed to be Christians (Acts 17:12-13) . By no means could this have helped with the growth and strength of the church.
Corinth is typically noted to be full of sin. It was not a good place to live and often difficult to overcome temptations. I find it interesting that this is an economically stable city, and they say the root of all evil is the love of money. Other factors that lead to Corinth being a difficult place was famine issues and riots that would come from this. Corinth was a growing city with many visitors because of the festivals and the Isthmian Games. This type of entertainment brought about people looking for a good time and those looking for something to fill their happiness. People would travel here, and in hearing Paul’s message, could go back to their homes and share what they heard. People of Corinth also struggled with the idea of influences on their life and not always recognizing how one thing can affect another and how others view Christianity. I personally think knowing any context helps us understand the people and their choices and actions based on their environment. It is always a choice of how people choose to take a message and Paul could have preached until he was blue but they simply have to decide for themselves that they want to change and are willing to do something about it. No, it is not that different than the modern West. We have different issues we are facing but the problem still remains true. We have to desire change and be willing to act differently for others to see the difference in us and understand it is not of ourselves, but of Jesus changing our lives.
While many preachers and believers like to believe that it was the widespread immorality of the city that caused the Church of Corinth to struggle (as you point out in another blog, “Corinth as Sin City”), there are other reasons that point to why the church failed. Many of these, as you point out, are culturally based. Corinth held the Isthmian Games, yearly festivals, took the social practices of living in the Roman Empire very seriously. To be a true part of society in Corinth, participation in these practices and celebrations was very important. For many of the new Christians in Corinth, they did not see their acceptance into Christianity as requiring a rejection of their Roman culture. This culture, of course, was one focused on lustful and gluttonous actions and behaviors; something condemned in Christianity. In any case, perhaps the question we’re asking shouldn’t be “What went wrong in Corinth?” but rather, “How did more cities not have the same problems?” As you pointed out, the city of Corinth was not too different from other large cities in the Roman Empire. Cities like Ephesus had similar populations and cultures, yet maintained a growing and successful church that Corinth struggled to uphold. In many ways, the Corinthian church reveals to us the difficulty in transforming those in society into followers of Jesus.
I think these things are definitely at least part of the reason for the difficulty in the early church in Corinth. Upon conversion, though a person is made new in Christ, they still are themselves – they still are part of their own culture, they (typically) still do what they do and enjoy what they enjoy, and I’m sure this was no different for those in Corinth. Because immorality was so engrossed in the Corinthian culture, I’m sure it took a while for these people to fully ‘Christianize’, for lack of a better word. Furthermore, possibly part of the difficulty lies in how new the church was. Unlike today, the church back then didn’t necessarily fully develop an understanding of the scripture and what it meant to be a Christian. One example of this was how the other church in a different city were discussing if circumcision should be a requirement for salvation. These Corinthian believers could still have been figuring out what they should and shouldn’t be doing in the context of Christianity.
As for the question, is this different for Christianity in the modern West, I would say, yes and no. As I mentioned, we have much excellent literature and teaching of what it means to be a Christian. Though this is somewhat arguable, we also have a Christian culture in the West. This influences our behavior and understanding, so when one converts to Christianity, they possibly already have some idea of what it means to be a Christian. That being said, the West is similar to the Corinthian church because we all have things that we need to get over after becoming a Christian. People are sinful. Though the particular sin may look different compared to the Corinthian church, it is still there and needs to be worked on.
it would seem that Paul had a good idea that was far more complicated then he thought it would be. the idea that if Christianity could survive in Corinth it could survive anywhere seems to have been very well tested by the Corinthians. as one of the first truly Gentile churches it would make sense that they would struggle the most with removing themselves from Roman practices that did not honor God. the Jews who converted had it easy as they already knew how to obey God they just had accepted Christ they had their own problems to work through but these problems were not pagan in nature. in many ways the Corinthians problem would be like a smoker deciding to stop smoking but struggiling because every day at work they were surrounded by people who still smoked. the temptation to revert back to smoking would be strong and much harder to ignore than if they worked in a smoke free environment. the fact that Corinth was so heavily Roman was the cause of the churches problems there as the city went on being Roman the change had happened with some people not all so the failing was in the Church’s ability to be in the world and not of it.
I think what’s interesting about the church of Corinth is how it relates to society today. You mentioned the Isthmian Games and other festivals, and how taking part in the festivities is seen as loyalty to Rome. Also, some of the more elite in the church had access to luxuries in food and such that they shouldn’t have been participating in. A lot of this has parallels to what we see in the West in America today.
Many people think that being a good Christian means being loyal to their country, even when that country is going against their values. They also think that the government has the responsibility to keep Christian values. This loyalty to their country is admirable, but I fear it is misplaced often-times, with people placing their identity in their patriotism rather than in Christ. With the social stirrings that are happening now, it’s not exactly ideal to think that Christian ideals are at the forefront of the country’s interests and placing loyalty to country at the same level as loyalty to God is wrong. I do think the Corinthian church had more fear of punishment for not being loyal to Rome than modern Christians do to America, but I think the principle holds true. Some people identify being a good American as also being a good Christian, when, in reality, Christ comes first. You don’t have to be a patriot to follow God.
With a wide variety of accepted ideas, it seems that people in Corinth have the ability to act on any of their desires, much like our culture today. The city was full of market places, bathhouses, temples, festivals, and people. The ability to fulfill needs and wants was at anyone’s fingertips. Paul did not directly address many of these issues probably because he was dealing with is own culture and how to handle things like patronage within his ministry and work. I also think a part of why Paul did not address these things during his time had to do with God’s perfect timing. If he would have talked with people about these things, Luke would not have been there to write it down (Keener’s commentary talks about this lack of detail) and the letters would not have been as in depth. Those letters now provide a basis for how people should live in today’s world and what they need to do to change.
Corinth is talked about as one of the worst cities in Paul’s time as sexual immortally has swept the entire area. Now I’m not comparing Buddhism to Sexual immorality but because it was such an large part of Roman culture like Dr. Long said in the class lecture I can make this analogy. I remember hearing a Christian Missionary to Thailand once say that their biggest struggle is leaving their culture as to be Thai is to be Buddhist. To me, it seems as if to be a Roman citizen means to have these cultural preconceptions of sexual immorality. Most churches and other Ministry oriented programs today believe that the body of Christ should make an effort to help along side and encourage other believers to be lights into the world and expand the kingdom of God. The festivals of the culture definitely had impacts on how they lived their life and responded to the Gospel. As Bible scholars living in the 21st century, I truly believe Corinth can teach us a lot about how Corinth relates to our culture and society today. Yes we live in a country where sin is glorified and the truth is rejected but we also live in a culture/society that knows of God, and Jesus so in some ways our Western culture has a lot of differences.
What went wrong in Corinth? That is a very interesting question. I especially think that this is interesting, because Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half. People also wanted him to stay here. Corinth was an extremely sinful and they also made an attack on Paul. This is when Gallio was proconsul and the Jews united and attacked him. They then brought Paul before the tribunal and said that he was persuading people to worship God contrary to the law (Acts 18:13). I believe that in Corinth, Paul had a bunch of people turn against him. He was beaten. Not having the support of people can make it extremely tough.
On the other hand, he did have the support of some people. They wanted him to stay, but he declined their request. He then moved on to Ephesus where he spent the longest he had ever spent in any place doing a missionary journey.
Overall, I believe that the support was not fully there for Paul in Corinth. He did have some people, but it was a sinful city as well. He had the odds against him.
I think that there was a lot of division in Corinth that made the ministry very difficult for Paul to deal with. I think that he built something great and did good ministry to the point where he maintained a good ministry and system. However, on the other hand, Paul was mistreated so harshly in Corinth as well. I think the ultimate factor was that it was time for Paul to move on and to go do ministry elsewhere. Yes he was mistreated, but honestly that was part of the calling and he was mistreated in a lot of places. I think it’s interesting to evaluate everything that Paul had to go through in Corinth, and despite all of that, he was still able to do some really effective ministry.
Corinth reminds me of summer camp. When Paul was there, they were on fire and ready to follow Christ and they did not really question what they were being told. They were just excited to be followers of Christ. As soon as Paul left though, summer camp was over and they had to deal with some really tough real life issues of integrating their faith into their life. This background does give us a better understanding of how the people of Corinth were and the potential social pressure that they faced. As Christians today, we may be able to relate to the people of Corinth, obviously not in the best way though! Part of their mishandling of the challenges could have potentially been from a lack of guidance after Paul had left. He spent more than a year there, but what about after he left? Then who did they turn to with their questions? This could have led to the problems that arose in the church. I think there is very little difference between the church and Corinth and the church of the west today. Still today we debate about what sort of cultural things should be allowed in the church and what we can partake in outside of the church. It is a debate that I believe will never be solved until Jesus comes back. We have scripture to help us, but interpretations of scripture differ. Traditions play a large role in this debate as well and its important to not dismiss these but to approach them biblically and with grace.
Tori, I had the exact same thought about summer camp! It reminds me how at summer camps, we are learning more about God and have a lot of passion for it. We listen to what others have to say, we discuss it with each other, and we devote spending some alone time with God. We have a “God high” some might say. But after a while when we leave, we may start to drift back into our old ways and habits. Our new practices might not stick, and we go back to what we formerly knew and did. This seems to be true with Corinth. Once Paul left, they did not have someone there to give them feedback and encouragement. Knowing the culture does play an important role in seeing how it could be hard for the people to continue to pursue God in what they were surrounded with. They acted worldly and not of God. “The Christians in Corinth failed to see how the Roman world impacted their life in Christ” (Long 2019). The account of Corinth shows us how it is not easy to follow God and what we are taught about Him. This struggle is still relevant today.
Yes, I do think that understanding the cultural background of Corinth does help our understanding of their predicament. In truth, how can we fully understand any problem if we do not understand the factors surrounding it? I think that as Christians, we are all going to struggle with different sins during our time on Earth. Often times Satan gets us with the same sins over and over again because they’re often something we sinfully desire within ourselves, therefore making it more difficult to break free from them. This is what, I believe is the case with the Corinthians. They loved the privileges that their Roman citizenship brought them and loved to participate in the indulgences offered to them.
I think that this is a little different when compared to our current culture because it’s slightly more avoidable, though no less attractive or inviting. However, I do think that there are many similarities such as our desire to be a part of the “crowd” and “go with the flow” in order to not stick out like a sore thumb. Our culture today still does struggle greatly with following world practices over following the commands of God.
There is nothing new under the sun. Sin is still going to be present in the world until Jesus comes back and frees the world from it and in this we can have hope even though we will continually struggle, we are saved.
I see Paul’s experience with the Corinthian church as similar to quick ministry start ups where the leaders get is started and move on without having someone ready to take on the ministry. Due to lack of training, teaching, and development of leadership, the ministry seems to crumble. However, Paul still has some influence or some contact with the church, and seems to be able to continue to minister to them. While the Corinthians had received Christ as savior, their worldview did not become immediately sanctified and their transition to a Christian worldview would take time. Because worldview is something so central to the human being, it is not always easy to identify it and challenge it. It is hard to be aware of syncretism too. I think that any church unit around the world struggles with holding to a worldview entirely Christian, and not mixed with significant elements of their secular locale. And even cultures and nations that are born out of a Christian worldview can combine their national identity as intertwined with their Christian faith. It would not be a stretch to affirm that that is the case in US. We struggle to grasp the truth of the Bible and discern it as being separate from the culture and the ways of the world. And it is even harder to try to be culturally relevant in such confused state. An effective exhortation both to the Corinthians and to us today is constantly being reminded of Romans 12:1-2. We ought to surrender our ways to be transformed by God’s power and grow in the will of God.
One piece of information that I have been picking up in my studies around Roman culture and the cities in the Roman providence is that gaining Roman citizenship was very important for how you were treated and what you could do within the city. This citizenship was very defining for a person and once obtained, people did not want to let it go. It appears that Corinth was a very prosperous city and so it would make sense that those who lived there would want to gain their citizenship if they didn’t already have it. However, when we look at Paul, we see that he IS a Roman citizen and because of what he is preaching, he is not getting the respect that a Roman citizen should get. Only after beatings does information about being a Roman citizen come out. With this being the case, it would appear that the people of Corinth may not want to give up the freedoms that they have as citizens, thus causing a struggle with their faith.
The church of Corinth appears to be more Gentile than Jewish. Polhill notes that although his ministry was focused more on the Gentiles, he was not giving up on the Jews every time that they rejected the gospel (2123). However, the high number of gentiles may play into why the culture was having such an impact on the church. As mentioned in the blog, the city of Corinth was known to host games and festivities that were important to the culture of the Roman world. So, this would also play a part in Roman citizenship and identity as these events may have been important and defining for the people in the church. The struggle was that they didn’t want to be seen as any more different than what they already were and the call of following Christ and the life of a Roman did not mix well.
The Christian in Corinthian is very similar to Christian in western cultures, and have many similarity that I can pinpoint. However, one of the main similarity and a great stumble block to fully assimilating Christianity was the cultural and social practice. There is a saying in Chinese proverb that, “if you wanna know what water is, don’t ask the fish”, the concept behind the phrase is if a person is immensely influences and condition by the cultures, he will be like a fish not being aware of the sort of culture that is conditioning his mind and worldview, and this can make him lose his own worldview. And this is one thing that we are experiencing in our time, we are so immerse into the cultures that we lives that we tend to lose faith in our beliefs. At the same time, cultures make us see Christianity as old way of life, being culturally irrelevant, or ignorant. The ramification of abiding into the the culture of the world is a great stumble block for the Corinthian christian and for Christian in western cultures as well. Its important that we don’t conform to the pattern of this world as Paul admonished us.
“if you wanna know what water is, don’t ask the fish” – I love this…
Although there is much information that could be given with regards to the historical background of the Greco-Roman culture during this era, the brief overview detailed by Professor Philip Long notes many of the factors which influenced the Christian converts in Corinth. As a result, this also caused many of the Christian converts in Corinth to mishandle certain challenges that arose throughout daily living. For instance, the concern for sexual immorality was persistent given that the Greco-Roman culture viewed sexual activities as either a form of worship to deities or simply for the elite of society to exercise dominance and freedom. Another concern often mentioned was related to instructions for proper worship among the Christian converts. Because Corinth was saturated in Greco-Roman culture, Christian converts found themselves questioning every aspect of Greco-Roman culture, particularly how was a Christian convert to worship the Messiah, Jesus Christ without participating in the erroneous acts of worship that the citizens of Corinth would participate in. Sadly, in comparison to the modern world, Christians are really no different than the Christian converts in Corinth. Despite that modern Christians have the full Word of God at their disposal, many of them refuse to live as they are called to do so and instead are swayed by the influences of society. Therefore, to view the Christian converts in Corinth as sinful beings and yet not realize that we as modern Christians have also fallen prey to the sinful influences of our society is hypocritical because we are truly no different than them.
It is interesting to see that the ancient people of Corinth struggled with many of the same problems that Christians still struggle with today, not putting aside former practices of life before Christ. The Corinthians could not figure out how to put aside the culture and practices that they had grown up with for so long, and become more Christ-like. Paul told them that they were still worldly in 1 Corinthians 3:3 and the original blog poster explained that as “thinking like the people of Corinth, not the people of God”. This explains why the Corinthians struggled so much. People of the world who do not love God do not act in a way that glorifies and honors him. That is why we are supposed to act like the people of God. Almost all of their problems would be solved if they just acted like the people of God. This is like many today who convert to Christianity, but still find themselves in the sin of the world that they had been caught up in beforehand. We should look at the Corinthians and their struggles and recognize areas of our lives that are still worldly and not God honoring.
What didn’t go wrong in Corinth should be the question. Corinth had issues before Paul arrived at Corinth, while he was there for 18 months, and after he left.
Before Paul arrived at the Church in Corinth, there were moral conflicts, like if they should eat food with the idols, a lot of them were Christians, but they didn’t want to change their behaviors; they still wanted to worship the Goddess Aphrodite.
When Paul came to Corinth, Paul knew that it wasn’t going to be easy because he faced prosecution in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea (class notes, 2022). Additionally, Paul was kicked out of many Synagogues because the leaders of the Church didn’t like what he was saying that Jesus was the Messiah because Jews didn’t believe that the Messiah had come yet. Additionally, some of the people that Paul did convert to Christianity were questioning him if they could worship idols and be prostitutes, too: they wanted to be followers of God but continue living their lives the same way they did before they accepted Christ because it was the Greco-Roman culture in that century.
After Paul left, the Corinth Church returned to its old ways; the Olympic games stopped because Corinth was destroyed by the Romans, and due to the destruction from the Romans, there was a grain shortage because of a food famine.
It is really interesting to see how the people of Corinth were struggling putting aside their culture. Several destabilizing factors contributed to the difficulties faced by the Corinthian church. Firstly, yearly festivals in the imperial cult were associated with loyalty to Rome, something the citizens of Corinth took seriously. Secondly, the Isthmian Games were based in Corinth and had elite social connections that some in the church had the “right” or “freedom” to participate in. Thirdly, there were severe grain famines in the first century that affected Corinth, leading to riots and destabilizing the economy. Finally, the most challenging issues revolved around Roman cultural and social practices, with the church still thinking like the people of Corinth rather than the people of God. The books of 1 and 2 Corinthians lays out the problems that Paul faced when in the city. The Christians in Corinth were unable to see how the Roman way of life impacted their relationship with Christ. Paul even accused them of thinking like they were people of Corinth instead of people of God. Paul was unable to address this issues because they arose after he had left. The author writes that after Paul left, the issues became more prominent as the church continued to struggle with their cultural context.