CORINTHIANS, LETTERS TO THE
Two inspired canonical letters written by the apostle Paul to the Christians in Greece during the first century C.E. The letters stand in seventh and eighth places, respectively, in most English versions of the Christian Greek Scriptures. Paul identifies himself as the writer of both letters, addressing First Corinthians to “the congregation of God that is in Corinth,” and Second Corinthians to “the congregation of God that is in Corinth, together with all the holy ones who are in all of Achaia.”—1Co 1:1, 2; 2Co 1:1.
That Paul did indeed write First and Second Corinthians cannot be seriously questioned. In addition to the apostle’s own testimony, the authenticity and general acceptance of both letters are attested by external testimony. The two letters are ascribed to Paul and quoted by writers of the first to the third centuries. Also, what is known as “The Canon of Athanasius” (367 C.E.) lists, among “fourteen letters of Paul the apostle,” “two to the Corinthians.” This list is the first example of the catalog of books of the Christian Greek Scriptures as we have them today, preceding by 30 years the list published by the Council, or Synod, of Carthage, Africa, in 397 C.E.
Paul’s Ministry in Corinth. Paul arrived in Corinth about 50 C.E. Initially he gave a talk in the synagogue every Sabbath “and would persuade Jews and Greeks.” (Ac 18:1-4) However, after encountering opposition and abusive speech among those in the synagogue, the apostle turned his attention to “people of the nations,” the Gentiles in Corinth. Paul’s meetings with them were transferred to a house next door to the synagogue, and many “began to believe and be baptized.” Told by the Lord in a vision, “I have many people in this city,” the apostle remained there for a year and six months “teaching among them the word of God.” (Ac 18:5-11) Because Paul had been instrumental in establishing a Christian congregation in Corinth, he could say to them: “Though you may have ten thousand tutors in Christ, you certainly do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have become your father through the good news.”—1Co 4:15.
Gross immorality was practiced in Corinth, and in time it even affected the Christian congregation in that city. Paul found it necessary to rebuke the congregation in a letter because among them arose a case of “such fornication as is not even among the nations,” for a certain man had taken his father’s wife. (1Co 5:1-5) Using an illustration they could appreciate, he also encouraged them to faithfulness. He knew that they were acquainted with the athletic contests at the Isthmian Games held near Corinth. So he wrote: “Do you not know that the runners in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may attain it. Moreover, every man taking part in a contest exercises self-control in all things. Now they, of course, do it that they may get a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible one.”—1Co 9:24, 25.
First Corinthians. During his third missionary tour Paul spent some time in Ephesus. (Ac 19:1) Probably during the last year of his stay there, the apostle received disturbing news about conditions in the Corinthian congregation. Paul had been told “by those of the house of Chloe” that dissensions existed among the Corinthians. (1Co 1:11) Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus had also come from Corinth and may have provided some information about the situation there. (1Co 16:17, 18) Also, Paul had received a letter of inquiry from the Christian congregation in Corinth. (1Co 7:1) Hence, out of deep regard for the spiritual welfare of his fellow believers there, Paul wrote this first letter to the Christian congregation in Corinth, about 55 C.E. That Ephesus was the place of composition is made certain by Paul’s words recorded at 1 Corinthians 16:8: “But I am remaining in Ephesus until the festival of Pentecost.”
In the introduction to First Corinthians Paul mentions an associate, Sosthenes, who may have penned the letter as dictated by Paul. This is likely, since toward its conclusion we read: “Here is my greeting, Paul’s, in my own hand.”—1Co 1:1; 16:21.
Second Corinthians. Paul wrote his second letter to the Corinthians probably during the late summer or early autumn of 55 C.E. The apostle had written the first letter in Ephesus, where he probably stayed as planned, until Pentecost of that year, or longer. (1Co 16:8) Paul then departed for Troas, where he was disappointed in not meeting Titus, who had been sent to Corinth to assist in the collection for the holy ones in Judea. So Paul proceeded to Macedonia, where Titus joined him with a report on the Corinthians’ reaction to his first letter. (2Co 2:12, 13; 7:5-7) Paul then wrote the second letter to them from Macedonia, evidently dispatching it by the hand of Titus. Then, after a few months, his efforts to visit Corinth materialized. So Paul actually visited the Corinthians twice. After his first visit, at which time he established the congregation, he made a plan for a second visit, which failed. But “the third time” that he planned or got “ready” he was successful, for he was able to see them again in about 56 C.E. (2Co 1:15; 12:14; 13:1) During this second visit in Corinth he wrote his letter to the Romans.
Reasons for writing. Titus brought Paul a favorable report. The first letter to the Corinthians had awakened in them sadness in a godly way, repentance, earnestness, a desire to clear themselves, indignation, fear, and a righting of the wrong. Paul responded in his second letter commending them for their favorable reception and application of counsel, urging them to “kindly forgive and comfort” the repentant man they had evidently expelled from the congregation. (2Co 7:8-12; 2:1-11; compare 1Co 5:1-5.) Paul also wanted to encourage them to proceed further with the relief work for their needy fellow believers in Judea. (2Co 8:1-15) Then, too, there were persons in the congregation who continued to challenge Paul’s position and authority as an apostle, making it necessary for him to defend his apostolic position; really, it was not for himself, but “it was for God,” that is, to save the congregation that belonged to God, that Paul spoke very strongly in his letter and ‘boasted’ of his credentials as an apostle.—2Co 5:12, 13; 10:7-12; 11:16-20, 30-33; 12:11-13.
Light on Scriptures Previously Written. Paul fortified his arguments by use of the Hebrew Scriptures in his inspired letters to the Corinthians. When exposing the foolishness of worldly wisdom as displayed by the false apostles, he proved the importance of getting the superior wisdom of God. This he did by pointing out what the psalmist had said to a generation centuries before, that “the thoughts of men . . . are as an exhalation” (Ps 94:11; 1Co 3:20), and by asking what Isaiah had asked the rebellious Jews: “Who has taken the proportions of the spirit of Jehovah, and who . . . can make him know anything?” (Isa 40:13; 1Co 2:16) Paul proved that the Christian minister has a right to receive material aid by showing that Deuteronomy 25:4, “You must not muzzle a bull while it is threshing,” really was written primarily for the ministers’ sakes. (1Co 9:9, 10) He demonstrated that God had long ago promised a resurrection, by calling on the statements at Isaiah 25:8 and Hosea 13:14, about the swallowing up of death. (1Co 15:54, 55) Additionally, he shed much light on the Lord’s Evening Meal by his detailed discussion of Jesus’ words spoken at the time He established the observance.—Lu 22:19, 20; 1Co 11:23-34.
Paul demonstrated what God’s attitude had always been as to spiritual cleanness by quoting from or alluding to Deuteronomy 17:7; Leviticus 26:11, 12; Isaiah 43:6; 52:11; and Hosea 1:10. (1Co 5:13; 2Co 6:14-18) He showed that the matter of material giving had not been overlooked by God’s servants in the past and that the generous Christian is viewed favorably by Jehovah. (Ps 112:9; 2Co 9:9) And he indicated that the principle in the Law of establishing every matter at the mouth of two or three witnesses applies in the Christian congregation. (De 19:15; 2Co 13:1) These and other references to scriptures written beforehand illustrate these texts and clarify their application for us.
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HIGHLIGHTS OF FIRST CORINTHIANS
A letter sent by Paul to the congregation in Corinth after he had received shocking reports about dissensions and immorality and in response to an inquiry about marriage
Written from Ephesus, about 55 C.E.
Exhortation to unity (1:1–4:21)
Following men results in divisions
God’s view of what is wise and what is foolish is what counts
Boast not in men but in Jehovah, who supplies all things through Christ
Be mature, spiritual persons, appreciating that God causes spiritual growth and that Christ is the foundation on which Christian personalities are built
Let no one get puffed up, thinking he is better than fellow Christians
Keeping the congregation morally clean (5:1–6:20)
Disfellowship any who become fornicators, greedy persons, idolaters, revilers, drunkards, or extortioners
Better to be defrauded than to take a fellow Christian to court before unbelievers
Moral uncleanness defiles God’s temple, prevents one from entering the Kingdom
Counsel regarding marriage and singleness (7:1-40)
Sexual due to be rendered, but with consideration
Marriage is better than singleness for persons inflamed with passion
Married Christian not to depart from unbelieving mate; may eventually help mate to gain salvation
Not necessary to change one’s status when becoming a Christian
Marriage brings increased anxiety; singleness can be advantageous to one desiring to serve the Lord without distraction
Consideration for the spiritual welfare of others (8:1–10:33)
Do not stumble others by eating foods that were offered to idols
To avoid hindering any from accepting the good news, Paul did not exercise his right to receive material help
Take to heart the warning examples from Israel’s wilderness experience—to benefit self and so as not to be a cause of stumbling to others
Though lawful, not all things build up
Congregational order (11:1–14:40)
Respect Christian headship; women’s use of head covering
Show respect for the Lord’s Evening Meal
Use the gifts of the spirit with appreciation for their source and their purpose
Love is the surpassing way
Maintain orderliness in congregation meetings
Certainty of the resurrection hope (15:1–16:24)
Christ’s resurrection a guarantee
Anointed Christians must die in order to be raised to immortality and incorruption
Your labor is not in vain in connection with the Lord; stand firm in the faith
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HIGHLIGHTS OF SECOND CORINTHIANS
A follow-up letter regarding action taken to keep the congregation clean, to stir up desire to help brothers in Judea, and to counteract the influence of false apostles
Written by Paul in 55 C.E., a few months before he arrived in Corinth on his second and final visit
Paul’s loving concern and the position of Paul and of Timothy in relation to their brothers (1:1–7:16)
Tribulation Paul and Timothy have experienced as Christians has brought them near death, but God’s deliverance of them can comfort others
Have conducted selves with holiness and godly sincerity; not masters over the faith of others but fellow workers for their joy
First letter was written out of love and with many tears; now the man who formerly was immoral should be forgiven and comforted
Paul and his associates are qualified by God as ministers of the new covenant; the Corinthians are their letter of recommendation, written on the hearts of these ministers
In carrying out this ministry, they do not adulterate God’s word but preach Christ as Lord; such good news is veiled only among those blinded by the god of this system of things
Though in earthly tents, Paul and Timothy as well as Corinthians share the hope of everlasting heavenly dwellings; but each one must be made manifest before the judgment seat of Christ
Anyone in union with Christ is a new creation; all of such share in ministry of reconciliation; all, as ambassadors, urge, “Become reconciled to God”
Paul and associates are recommended as God’s ministers by what they have endured in their ministry, by giving evidence of God’s spirit in their lives
With widened hearts they appeal to their brothers to widen out in their affections, to avoid becoming unevenly yoked with unbelievers, to cleanse themselves of every defilement of flesh and spirit
Paul’s great comfort at report of their fine response to counsel in first letter
Encouragement to help brothers experiencing adversity in Judea (8:1–9:15)
Macedonians, though very poor, begged to have a share
Christ became poor so the Corinthians (and others) could become rich
Corinthians commended for their readiness to share
Let each one do as he has resolved in his heart; God loves a cheerful giver
Arguments to offset the influence of false apostles (10:1–13:14)
Answers to opposers as to Paul’s being “weak,” ‘in territory belonging to them,’ “inferior,” “unskilled in speech,” “unreasonable,” and their claim that he proved he is not an apostle like them when he humbled himself to do secular work
Paul equal in genealogy; superior in record of persecution and hardship endured for Christ, in loving concern for congregations, in visions, in signs of apostleship
Keep testing whether you are in the faith