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The Catholic Study Bible A special version of the New American Bible, with a wealth of background information useful to Catholics.

Introduction

The letters to the Corinthians reveal Paul the pastoral theologian in ways that his other surviving letters do not. The sheer number of pastoral problems posed and answered, especially in 1 Corinthians, leads us to think that here Paul was most challenged to apply the principles he knew to real, new circumstances in the lives of his community. The Corinthians could never be accused of lack of initiative. Rather, they seem to have taken seriously (perhaps more so than Paul would have liked) his encouragement to find new freedom in Christ, so that his relationship with them was complex and tumultuous.

Corinth was the capital and central city of the Roman province of Achaia, which comprised southern Greece. Its location near the isthmus dividing the Peloponnesus from mainland Greece made it a major seaport and trading center. It was also a Roman freedmen's colony and therefore its population was made up of various peoples, but with a heavy concentration of Roman citizens and Roman interests. With its mixture of national and religious groups, rich and poor, Jews, pagans, and Christians, and moral and immoral people, it was an exciting but difficult environment for the small Christian community, which was predominantly Gentile but probably had a small Jewish minority.

The letters we call 1 and 2 Corinthians formed part of a larger collection that originally consisted of several letters Paul wrote to the community. He speaks in 1 Corinthians 5, 9 of a previous letter written to the Corinthians instructing them to avoid immoral people. Such a letter no longer exists and nowhere do we have this instruction from Paul, unless, as has been suggested, a piece of it survives as 2 Corinthians 6, 14–7, 1 . Similarly, the reference to a letter written in “much affliction and anguish of heart” (2 Cor 2, 4 ) hardly fits the tone of 1 Corinthians. Furthermore, 2 Corinthians is characterized by discontinuity, suggesting that it is actually a composite of several letters (see New American Bible, introduction to 2 Corinthians).

We learn that the Corinthians also wrote to Paul (see 1 Cor 7, 1 ), and that the Corinthian church, difficult as it was for Paul, preserved and honored his advice, undoubtedly reading his letters at liturgical gatherings as Paul had instructed them to do. We are left with the impression that the extant letters reflect an editing and combining of writings, compiled as the community processed and integrated the words of the apostle.

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