Background: Paul founded the Corinthian church on his second missionary journey as described in Acts 18. He had come to Corinth from Athens where the soils for spiritual growth were evidently quite sterile because of its many philosophies and the propensity of people there to “spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new” (Acts 17:21, how very like America!). He had come to Athens having recently been driven out of Philippi, then Thessalonica, and then Berea. It was from Corinth that he wrote his two epistles to the Thessalonians. The city was noted for its vice; “to Corinthianize” became a word meaning to practice vile immorality.
While in Corinth Paul was again persecuted by the Jews, who brought him before the judgment seat of Gallio, but Gallio refused to hear their case (Acts 18:12-16). After this event he “remained many days longer” but eventually “put out to sea for Syria” along with Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18:18). On the way he made a brief stop in Ephesus, an important city being the capital of the Roman province of Asia, and perhaps testing the spiritual waters “entered the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews” (Acts 18:19). Surprisingly (considering the persecution he had met with from the Jews in almost every other place) “they asked him to stay for a longer time”. However, “he did not consent” (Acts 18:20), but leaving Priscilla and Aquila there and promising to return according to the will of the Lord (Acts 18:19:21), he continued on to Syria. Landing in Caesarea, he went up to visit the church (likely meaning the church in Jerusalem) and finally returned to Antioch, thus ending his second missionary journey (Acts 18:22). After a short stay he set out by land on his third missionary journey, strengthening the churches in Galatia (Acts 18:23) and then returning to Ephesus where he would spend 3 years (Acts 20:31) in a most effectual ministry that would bear much fruit (see 1 Cor 16:9).
Towards the end of this stay in Ephesus Paul received a report from “Chloe’s people” (1 Cor 1:11-12) of some divisions in the church that had developed. For some there in Corinth were throwing their allegiance to Paul, some to Peter, and some to Apollos who was an eloquent man and “mighty in the Scriptures” (Acts 18:24), whom Priscilla and Aquila had sent to them from Ephesus prior to Paul’s coming (Acts 18:27-28). He was also grieved and greatly concerned to hear of some immorality and lawsuits in the church (1 Cor 5 and 6). In addition, he had received some questions from the Corinthians that needed answered about marriage (1 Cor 7), food sacrificed to idols (1Cor 8-10), public worship (1Cor 11), spiritual gifts (1Cor 12-14), the resurrection (1Cor 15) and the collection being taken up for the poor saints in Judea (1Cor 16:1-4). He had also previously communicated to them that he planned on coming to them, probably by ship across the Aegean from Ephesus, and from there to travel into Macedonia and then back again to Corinth (2 Cor 1:15-16). However, in light of the problems there in Corinth (2 Cor 1:23) he changed his plans and decided to go through Macedonia first and then come to Corinth. In response to the bad report he had heard about the Corinthians, the questions he had received from them, and to communicate his change in plans (1Cor 16:5-12), Paul wrote 1 Corinthians.
1Co 1:1-3 Why does Paul assert his apostolic authority in this letter whereas he didn’t in his letters to the Thessalonians? Who is Sosthenes? See Acts 18:17. Who are the saints? Notice in 1Co 1:3 the two blessings mentioned in the greeting that are also found at the start of every other letter of Paul’s (and Peter’s).
1Co 1:4-9 For what did Paul give thanks in regard to the Corinthians? In what manner were the Corinthians enriched in Christ? How were such riches different from the material riches they would have been familiar with? See Prov 3:13-18. What is the connection between the Corinthians being enriched “in all speech and all knowledge” and the topics Paul will later address? See 8:1-2, 12:8,10,30-31. See also 1Co 1:7. What is the purpose of spiritual gifts? See 1Co 1:6 & 8, and notice what it means to be confirmed to the end.
1Co 1:10-12 What problem in the Corinthian church does Paul address as of first importance? What was the nature of the problem? See 1Co 1:11-12. In 1Co 1:10 Paul exhorts the Corinthians to be made complete (united, mended, as of torn nets, see Mat 4:21) in the same mind and judgment (opinion, sentiment). Whose mind and sentiment? What is the only way for a body of people to all agree and for there to be no divisions? What does the mention of Chloe in 1Co 1:11 communicate about the Christian view of women? How was that different from the prevailing view of that day?
1Co 1:13-17 How did Paul feel about a party of Christians following him? How did Apollos feel? See 1Co 16:12. What notions were the Corinthians holding about baptism and the importance of who they were baptized by? Why do you suppose Jesus (Jn 4:2), Peter (Acts 10:48) and Paul generally left baptisms to others? What does this and Paul’s response here teach us about the relative importance of baptism, especially as a sacrament (means of obtaining grace)? Who were Crispus, Gaius, and Stephanas? See Acts 18:8, Rom 16:23, and 1 Cor 16:15-17.
1Co 1:17-18 What is the relevance of Paul’s words in 1Co 1:17 (“not in cleverness/wisdom of speech, that the cross of Christ should not be made void”) to the divisions in the Corinthian church? See 1Co 1:12, Acts 18:24. What is the word of the cross mentioned in 1Co 1:18? Which is more important: eloquent preaching or the power of a crucified life? Why is it foolishness to some, but the power of God to others? Note: “power” comes from the Greek word dunamis from which we get our word “dynamite”.
1Co 1:19-21 From the context of the passage Paul quotes in 1Co 1:19 (see Isaiah 29:9-14) in what way do you think the truth of these words might also be applicable to today’s worldly-wise church? In 1Co 1:20, how has God made foolish the wisdom of the world? Note: the Greek word translated as “foolish” here is the same word Christ used for salt that has become tasteless (see Mat 5:13, Luk 14:34-35); what insight does this give you about what Christ means by the salt of the earth becoming tasteless? What is the nature of the world’s wisdom? Will it ever lead a person to know God? See 1Co 1:21, Luk 10:21. How is the world’s wisdom different from God’s? See James 3:13-18. Paul writes that God was well-pleased to save those who believe; what is it that they believe?
1Co 1:22-25 How is Christ crucified a stumbling block to the Jews? See Rom 9:31-33. How is Christ crucified foolishness to the Gentiles? See Mat 20:25-28. How is Christ crucified both the power and wisdom of God to those who believe? See 1Co 1:18,21,30,Rom 1:16, 6:4-7. What does Paul mean by the “foolishness” and “weakness” of God? How are they wiser than man’s wisdom and stronger than man’s strength?
1Co 1:26-31 What sort of people tend to believe the gospel? See also James 2:5. Why is this? See 1Co 1:27-29. Note: “noble” in verse 26 means “well-born”, or of a “high birth”. What great imperative does this lay upon us who are “wise according to the flesh”, “mighty”, and well-born? See James 4:4-10, 1 Pet 5:5-6. In 1Co 1:29, why will neither the foolish and weak nor the wise and strong have anything of which to boast before the Lord? What should they boast in? See 1Co 1:31, Jer 9:23-24. In what way does Jesus “become” to us wisdom from God (1Co 1:30)? Note: the Greek grammatical construction indicates that “righteousness and sanctification and redemption” define what Paul means by “wisdom from God”.