Introduction
Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians is one of the numerous letters the apostle wrote to churches to provide them with his valued theological and practical counsel. It was sent to the congregation he had organized in the southern Greek city of Corinth in the early 50s a.d. This city was a major port, a center of Mediterranean commerce, and the seat of government for the Roman province of Achaia. Corinth was home to people from all over the Empire, a true cultural melting-pot with many religions represented. There was a sizeable Jewish community in Corinth and Paul proclaimed the good news to both Jews and Gentiles as he worked to organize that first church there. At a later point while Paul was in Ephesus on the other side of the Aegean (a.d. 54–55), he received word that the Corinthian church had become divided into factions. Disagreement over whose spiritual gifts were more important had much to do with this.
First Corinthians is actually not the first of his letters to Corinth, but is the first one preserved. He had written at least once earlier (5.9) and the church had replied (7.1), which means that the issues he is addressing are part of an on-going correspondence. When 1 and 2 Corinthians are taken together these two letters comprise the largest body of Paul's existing correspondence to any one church. In this first letter Paul appears to be responding to their questions or comments in the same order as they had written them, and so he presents his counsel regarding their divisions, sexual morality and marriage, matters of conscience, worship and the Lord's Supper, the meaning of spiritual gifts, and the theological meaning of Jesus' resurrection. Paul's teaching in chapter 13 on other-centered love (“charity” in KJV; agape in Greek) is profoundly eloquent and one of the best known passages in the New Testament. He places it right in the middle of his teaching on gifts of the Spirit and says this kind of love toward others is “a more excellent way” (12.31b) to live in community.
Outline
Greetings and a Prayer of Thanks (1.1-9)
Finding Unity in Christ the Crucified (1.10—2.16)
Trust the Teaching of Christ's Apostles (3.1—4.21)
Paul's Counsel on Problems in Relationships (5.1—7.40)
Give Honor to God, Not to Idols (8.1—11.1)
Guidance for Worship and the Use of Spiritual Gifts (11.2—14.40)
The Meaning of Christ's Victory over Death (15.1-58)
Future Plans and Final Greetings (16.1-24)
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