I want to focus this week on the church in Corinth and Paul’s relationship with it. I’ll talk next week about the church in Rome.
When Paul was on his second missionary journey, he traveled to Achaia from Macedonia. You’ll notice that Corinth lies on an isthmus which situated it well to serve as a major hub of commerce. Paul spent about 18 months ministering there around A.D. 51 before passing across the Aegean Sea to Ephesus. While in Corinth, he met Aquila and Priscilla, Christ-following Jews who had recently arrived from Rome due to the expulsion of Jews by Emperor Claudius. They accompanied Paul to Ephesus and remained there to lay the groundwork for a church there. Paul returned to Jerusalem in Judea and then Antioch in Syria (the green line in the map below).
Within a year or so, Paul returned to Ephesus, as part of his third missionary journey, where he spent three years ministering in the region (the light pink line in the map above). During that time he had several interactions with the church that he had established in Corinth. Priscilla and Aquila and discipled a knowledgeable Jew named Apollos in Ephesus and then sent him on to Corinth to help with the body of believers there.
While Paul was in Ephesus, he sent a letter (which we do not have) to the church greeting them and addressing some basic theological topics. He later received a visiting delegation from Corinth who brought him news of how the church was doing there and they also brought him a letter from the believers there which had a number of questions in it (we don’t have a copy of this letter either). However, this letter and the verbal report from the visiting delegation is what prompted Paul to write 1st Corinthians.
The first 6 chapters of the letter deal primarily with issues that the delegation had apparently reported to Paul about disunity and factions in the church, sexual immorality, and a general lack of propriety among the believers unbecoming of Christian behavior. Chapters 7-15 deal primarily with the questions sent to Paul in the letter delivered by the delegation.
The letter of 1 Corinthians was delivered to the church and then news quickly came back to Paul of further troubles, prompting him to make an emergency trip across the Aegean Sea to Corinth to deal directly and rather harshly with whatever the problem was. He left on difficult terms and returned to Ephesus, from which he soon wrote a second letter to the church there (we don’t have this one either). He sent this letter with Titus with the instructions to meet him in Troas (north of Ephesus) with a report of how things are faring now in Corinth.
At the conclusion of three years, Paul left Ephesus and headed north to Troas. After ministering there a short while, but not finding Titus, he proceeded on to Macedonia where he finally encountered Titus with an encouraging report of things having improved significantly in Corinth. This good news prompted Paul to write the letter that we now call 2 Corinthians. This letter references some of the events that I just wrote about, and also warns a faction of trouble-makers that Paul is on his way to confront them soon.
Paul continued south to Corinth and spent some more time there re-establishing his rapport with the church. He also wrote to the church in Rome which was beginning to re-develop now that Emperor Claudius was dead and Jews were being allowed back into the region.
For Further Investigation
- Resources on 1 Corinthians from John Piper on Desiring God
- Resources on 2 Corinthians from John Piper on Desiring God
- 1 Corinthians video from The Bible Project
- 2 Corinthians video from The Bible Project