Study Notes—Chapter 1
The First to the Corinthians: Titles like this were apparently not part of the original text. Ancient manuscripts show that they were added later, doubtless to make it easier to identify the letters. The papyrus codex known as P46 shows that scribes identified Bible books by titles. That codex is the earliest known collection of Paul’s letters, often dated to about the year 200 C.E. It contains nine of his letters. At the beginning of Paul’s first inspired letter to the Corinthians, this codex has a title that reads Pros Ko·rinʹthi·ous A (“Toward [or, “To”] Corinthians 1”). (See Media Gallery, “Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians.”) Other early manuscripts, such as Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus of the fourth century C.E., contain the same title. In these manuscripts, the title appears both at the beginning of the letter and at the end.
Sosthenes our brother: The name Sosthenes was not particularly common. The only other occurrence in the Bible is found at Ac 18:17. Therefore, it is possible that the presiding officer of the synagogue who was beaten by the crowd in Corinth later became the Christian brother mentioned here and associated with Paul in Ephesus. At 1Co 16:21, Paul implies that the bulk of the letter was not written in his own hand, perhaps indicating that Sosthenes was his secretary for this letter.
the congregation of God that is in Corinth: Paul founded the Corinthian congregation about 50 C.E. (Ac 18:1-11) While in Ephesus about 55 C.E., Paul wrote this first inspired letter to the Corinthians. (Compare 1Co 5:9.) The brothers in Corinth had recently written to Paul, asking questions about marriage and the eating of foods offered to idols. (1Co 7:1; 8:1) But Paul was aware of problems that were even more pressing. The congregation was tolerating a case of flagrant immorality. (1Co 5:1-8) And there were also divisions in the congregation. (1Co 1:11-13; 11:18; 15:12-14, 33, 34) There may also have been some uncertainty about the proper handling of the Lord’s Evening Meal. (1Co 11:20-29) Paul provided inspired direction on these matters, placing special emphasis on the importance of showing Christian love.—1Co 13:1-13.
May you have undeserved kindness and peace: See study note on Ro 1:7.
fellowship: Or “a sharing.” Paul uses the Greek word koi·no·niʹa several times in his letters. (1Co 10:16; 2Co 6:14; 13:14) In this context, this word implies that fellowship with God’s Son involves close friendship and unity.—See study note on Ac 2:42.
divisions: Or “splits; schisms.” Jesus prayed that his followers would be united (Joh 17:20-23), and Paul was likewise vitally interested in the unity of the Christian congregation. By the time Paul wrote his first inspired letter to the Corinthians (c. 55 C.E.), there were factions in the congregation. Some viewed Apollos as their leader, while others favored Paul or Peter or held only to Christ. (1Co 1:11, 12) Paul counseled against giving undue prominence to men, who were simply ministers serving under God and Christ. (1Co 3:4-9, 21-23; 4:6, 7) He used the Greek word skhiʹsma, here rendered “divisions,” three times in his first letter to the Corinthians.—1Co 1:10; 11:18; 12:25.
the house of Chloe: In the Bible, this is the only mention of a woman named Chloe. She may have resided in Corinth or in Ephesus, where 1 Corinthians was written. Paul does not specifically state whether she was a Christian who lived in either of these cities. However, since he refers to this household by name, apparently at least some of the household—either family members or slaves—were Christians known to the Corinthians.
Apollos: A Jewish Christian of Alexandria who traveled from Ephesus to Corinth and assisted those who had become believers. (Ac 18:24-28; 19:1; see study note on Ac 18:24.) Apollos “watered” the seeds that Paul had sowed in Corinth.—1Co 3:5, 6; see study note on 1Co 16:12.
Cephas: One of the names of the apostle Simon Peter. Upon meeting Simon for the first time, Jesus gave him the Semitic name Cephas (in Greek, Ke·phasʹ). The name may be related to the Hebrew noun ke·phimʹ (rocks) used at Job 30:6 and Jer 4:29. At Joh 1:42, John explains that the name “is translated ‘Peter’” (Peʹtros, a Greek name that similarly means “A Piece of Rock”). The name Cephas is used only at Joh 1:42 and in two of Paul’s letters, namely, 1 Corinthians and Galatians.—1Co 1:12; 3:22; 9:5; 15:5; Ga 1:18; 2:9, 11, 14; see study notes on Mt 10:2; Joh 1:42.
executed on the stake: Or “fastened on a stake (pole).”—See study note on Mt 20:19 and Glossary, “Stake”; “Torture stake.”
Christ sent me, not to baptize: Paul was authorized to baptize (Mt 28:19) and did so on occasion. However, in this context he shows that performing baptisms was not his primary assignment from Christ. (1Co 1:14, 16) He did not want baptizing to become a source of division, as if baptisms performed by an apostle were more meaningful than those done by others.
the torture stake of the Christ: Here the term “torture stake” (Greek, stau·rosʹ) is used to represent Jesus’ death on the stake. Jesus died in this way so that mankind would no longer be enslaved to sin but could have a good relationship with God.
the torture stake: See study note on 1Co 1:17.
the scribe: That is, an expert in the Mosaic Law.
this system of things: The basic meaning of the Greek word ai·onʹ is “age.” It can refer to a state of affairs or to features that distinguish a certain period of time, epoch, or age. (See Glossary, “System(s) of things.”) Here the term refers to what 2Ti 4:10 calls “the present system of things,” that is, the prevailing state of affairs in the world in general.
the foolishness of what is preached: Paul described the preaching about Christ as “foolishness” because to the nations, that is what the message appeared to be. The Greeks could not understand why a Jew had to die as a despised criminal to save them. (1Co 1:18, 25; see study note on 1Co 1:22.) The Jews expected to be saved by works of law, by the giving of alms, and by the merit of their ancestors, especially Abraham. They did not want a messiah whom they saw as being weak, a man who allowed himself to be nailed to a stake.—1Co 1:23.
the Greeks: In the first century C.E., the Greek word Helʹlen, used here, did not necessarily refer only to natives of Greece or to people of Greek origin. In this context, the term is used in parallel with “the nations” (1Co 1:23) and refers to “the Greeks” as representative of all non-Jewish peoples (Ro 1:16; 2:9, 10; 3:9; 10:12; 1Co 10:32; 12:13). This was no doubt due to the prominence of the Greek language and culture throughout the Roman Empire.—See study note on Ro 1:16.
to the Jews a cause for stumbling: The Law stated that a man hung on a stake was “accursed of God.” (De 21:22, 23; Ga 3:13) So the Jews viewed Jesus’ manner of death as shameful, not fit for the Messiah. It therefore became to them “a cause for stumbling.”
in a fleshly way: Or “by human standards.” Lit., “according to the flesh.”
of noble birth: Or “from important families.” Some scholars believe that the Greek word referred to the descendants of the city’s more prominent older families. In the Greco-Roman world, those who had such a “noble birth” were part of the elite. The use of this term here indicates that a few Corinthian Christians may have been from the upper class of society and were socially privileged.
one: Lit., “flesh.” The Greek word sarx is here used in the sense of a human, a being of flesh and blood.—See study notes on Joh 17:2; Ro 3:20; 1Co 1:26.
Jehovah: In this quote from Jer 9:24, the divine name, represented by four Hebrew consonants (transliterated YHWH), occurs in the original Hebrew text of Jeremiah.—See App. C1 and C2.