Book Summaries

On the basis of both internal and external evidence the two Corinthian epistles are fully attested as coming from the pen of the apostle Paul. The first was written from Ephesus (1 Cor 16:8) in the spring, probably of the year a.d. 57, and the second from Macedonia (2 Cor 2:13), doubtless in the summer of the same year. The earliest known titles are simply "To the Corinthians 1" and "To the Corinthians 2."

During the course of his 2nd Missionary Journey Paul laboured at Corinth for a year and a half, about a.d. 51 ­52, and there founded a flourishing church (Acts 18:1 ­11). On his 3rd Missionary Journey he devoted 3 years to the city of Ephesus and the Roman province of Asia, about a.d. 54 ­57. After the apostle's departure from Corinth numerous doctrinal and practical problems had arisen, and word was brought to Paul at Ephesus, perhaps first by Apollos, a learned and eloquent Christian who had laboured earnestly to build up that church (Acts 18:24 to 19:1; cf. 1 Cor 16:12). Also, members of Chloe's household, who belonged to the Corinthian church, had come with disconcerting news of the state of affairs there (1 Cor 1:11). Further information came with the arrival of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus (ch 16:17, 18), who may also have brought the letter of which Paul speaks in ch 7:1, in which the church asked Paul's judgement on certain matters. Gross practices were corrupting the church and dissipating its life and vitality, and heretical doctrines were being taught. Paul wrote a letter, now lost, admonishing the Corinthians to amend their scandalous ways and to discipline the guilty persons (ch 5:9, 11). From 2 Cor 2:1; 12:14; 13:1 some have inferred that Paul himself paid a brief, unrecorded visit to Corinth during this period of labour at Ephesus, one that had proved to be a painful and disappointing experience. At least he sent Timothy there (1 Cor 4:17; 16:10), quite likely as the bearer of what we now call his 1st epistle to the Corinthians--actually his 2nd letter to them. In this letter he promised to visit Corinth, hoping to leave Ephesus after Pentecost (ch 16:8). However, an unexpected event, the riot led by Demetrius the silversmith, forced him to leave the Asian city sooner than he had intended (Acts 19:21 to 20:3). Paul had also dispatched Titus to Corinth, in a further endeavour to settle affairs at Corinth prior to his own arrival. Titus was to rejoin Paul at Troas (2 Cor 2:13), but his failure to do so led Paul to press on into Macedonia. There Titus met him with the cheering news that the church at Corinth had responded heartily to the admonition he had sent, and was now thoroughly repentant (2 Cor 7:5 ­7). Thereupon, in joy and commendation, Paul wrote the letter we know as 2 Corinthians.

The 1st Corinthian epistle is objective and practical, carefully organised, and measured in tone. It contains firm reproof for irregularities that had crept into the church, and instruction on the points of faith and practice concerning which the church had sought further information. The author rebukes the factious spirit that had arisen, denounces immorality, especially a certain case of incest, and reproves Christians for restoring to litigation in secular courts. The instruction he gives is concerned with proper marriage relationships, meats sacrificed to idols, propriety in public worship, the proper observance of the Lord's Supper, spiritual gifts--particularly the gift of tongues--and the resurrection. 1 Corinthians may be divided into two parts, the 1st being concerned with problems of church discipline, and the 2nd chiefly with doctrinal instruction. Following a brief introduction (ch 1:1 ­9), Paul deals with the factions that had arisen in the church (ch 1:10 to 4:21). Professing allegiance to Paul or Apollos or Peter or Christ, these factions had already grievously split the young church, and it was in danger of disintegrating. Those who have proclaimed the gospel to them are simply servants of Jesus Christ, and He alone is to be exalted, honoured, and followed. In ch 5 Paul rebukes moral irregularities among Christians, and in particular a shameful case of incest. Chapter 6 admonishes church members to settle their own differences instead of haling one another into court. The church, he says, is fully qualified to administer justice among its members and all should submit to its judgement. The 7th chapter deals with marriage relationships and responsibilities, including problems that arise in a home where husband and wife are not united in the church. In chs 8:1 to 11:1 Paul answers the question of eating meats offered in sacrifice to idols and served at feasts to which Christians had been invited. While denying that idols in any way affect food, he stresses the supreme importance of doing nothing, even when right in itself, that might injure a fellow Christian's conscience and so risk the salvation of his soul. Women are to be veiled in church (ch 11:2 ­16). The Lord's Supper is not to be an occasion for riotous feasting, but is to be celebrated in discriminating solemnity (1 Cor 11:17 ­34). The gifts of the Spirit are to be recognised and honoured (ch 12), but even they are of less importance than the spirit of love among brethren (ch 13). The gift of tongues, in particular, must be exercised "decently and in order" (ch 14). The resurrection of the righteous and the bestowal of immortality are vouchsafed by the resurrection of our Lord (ch 15). In the closing chapter Paul takes up his plans for the future--the collection for the poor, his own intention to visit Corinth, his request for the acceptance of Timothy--and Apollos' decision to remain at Ephesus (ch 16:1 ­12). The letter closes with a series of exhortations and greetings (vs. 13 ­24).

The 2nd epistle is largely subjective and personal, and reflects Paul's anxiety for the Corinthian church and his joy at their repentance and reformation. He expresses gratitude and appreciation for their wholehearted reception of his previous epistle, and reviews some of the problems dealt with in it. In the final section, which deals in unwonted severity with a small minority who apparently persisted in opposing his counsel, the apostle sets forth proof of his apostolic authority and vindicates his course in dealing with the church at Corinth.

2 Corinthians logically falls into three main divisions. Following the introduction (2 Cor 1:1 ­11), Paul reviews his recent relations with the church (chs 1:12 to 7:16). He explains why he could not carry out his original plan to visit them (chs 1:12 to 2:4), counsels restoring a repentant offender to fellowship (ch 2:5 ­11), and expresses joy at the Corinthians' sincere repentance (vs. 12 ­17). He again vindicates his apostleship, which some at Corinth have challenged, and exalts apostles as the ambassadors of Christ (chs 3:1 to 6:10). He appeals to the Corinthians to lead holy lives, and again expresses his rejoicing at the warm-hearted response to his previous admonitions (chs 6:11 to 7:16). In chs 8 and 9, the second main division, Paul makes arrangements for completing the collection for the poor at Jerusalem, appoints Titus to take charge of this work, and appeals to the Corinthians' liberality. In chs 10 to 13, the third main division, it would seem that Paul turns his attention to the unrepentant minority who still refuse to humble themselves and to repent. Again he defends his apostleship (ch 10), and distinguishes between true and false apostles (2 Cor 11:1 to 12:18). In chs 12:19 to 13:10 he makes a final appeal to the unrepentant, and follows this appeal with concluding remarks and greetings (ch 13:11 ­14).

Horn, Siegfried H., Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary, (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association) 1979.

Sign Up for our Newsletter